EARTHQUAKE : Are We Ready?

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By Miguel Raymundo

Many are asking why the government has not made very public a JICA study on a major earthquake shaking Metro Manila causing death to hundreds of thousands. This study describes the magnitude of damage to the capital of the country.
These questions came after the world witnessed a real life end-of-world devastation in the city of Tacloban and other towns in Leyte and Samar.

The high body count from typhoon “Haiyan” came even after the government issued warnings of effect of a super typhoon. The local government and residents prepared for the worst and many were housed in evacuation centers, most of them shoreline families.

Shortcomings

But preparations for the worst were not enough that over ten thousand lost their lives. Why the-worst-case preparation by the locals was not enough, could be traced to national government inability to clearly explain what happens on a storm surge created by a category 5 super typhoon.

(Photo used under Creative Commons)
(Photo used under Creative Commons)

The national government was short in informing the public. The agency in charge of this in the national government is the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). PAGASA and Phivolcs are under the DOST. These two agencies are mandated to forecast and predict catastrophe and warn the public. PAGASA greatly failed on the “Haiyan” tragic visit that caused tens thousand dead and hundreds of billions of property damaged.

That Tacloban experience has raised fears on a catastrophe in the Metro Manila where over 15 million live. Tacloban City has 200 thousand inhabitants.

A category 5 super typhoon could hit Metro Manila and hundreds of thousands would perish should DOST not shape up and learn from their experience in Tacloban City.

Or a major earthquake with intensity that leveled Bohol could rock Metro Manila and DOST failing to prepare the 15 million in the metropolis.

Casualty Count

The JICA study said casualty count will reach 113,000 should a 7.2 earthquake hit Metro Manila. The JICA report was done in 2002 to 2004 and the reported population for Metro Manila then was placed at 10 Million. Now the population has ballooned to 15 Million.

Experts said the JICA report is even a conservative estimate of damage and casualties.

Architect Felino Palafox, an authority on urban planning said in a forum at Fernandina that our building code is so outdated that require amendments to fit to requirements of safety and environment protection.

“Two meters is the required minimum limit in distance between buildings,” Palafox said adding that if this is an issue between two high rise towers, there will collision between two structures in event of an earthquake.

Suspect Structures

In the last ten years, capital investments in the country went to building of high rise condominium towers. Experts say that many of these high rise buildings are suspect in it strength against earthquake and wind gusts of the Typhoon Yolanda level.

While experts in urban planning are expressing deep concerns on people safety in the event of a major catastrophe, Phivolcs is not heard in the cacophony of fears.

OpinYon takes the side of those expressing disappointment at government halfhearted response to those warnings.

Sink Holes

The case of sink holes being feared in Cebu and Bohol after the last 7.2 earthquake that toppled homes, buildings and churches, these warnings were dismissed as inconsequential at best or hoax at worst.

The government handling of Typhoon Yolanda has reinforced anxieties if not deepened fears among environment observes.
First the government failed to clear state its warnings on the catastrophe. Second it has promised immediate response in relief operations. Third is was the last to be able to mobilize in rescue and relief operations in affected areas in Central Philippines.
That will likely be repeated in a Metro Manila natural calamity.

The leadership of Phivolcs is on default in making public the findings of JICA and other experts like Palafox. The usual riposte of these failings is that’s how the government works.

How does the government work? In many cases technical men and scientists love numbers in technical reports not on living people in those numbers. They are fascinated by figures not warm bodies that will perish in a catastrophe. OpinYon thinks Phivocs head Renato Solidum fits into this typical mold of scientist in the government service.

Heartless

DOST where Phivolcs is part is infected by this malady of heartlessness. The mother department, the PAGASA, the Phivoks,they are busy and much too concerned on small matters that feed ego if not their pockets. They live in a scientific ivory tower that is detached from the needs of the people.

They love showing their expertise in written scholarly studies, testifying in Congress and in courts as expert witnesses, but they have very little feel of the life that throbs in those places, subject of scholarly reports.

A 7.2 earthquake or a 320 KPH hurricane or an 8 meter high storm surge could bring this country to its knees should any of them hit Metro Manila and the people here are not prepared.

Senator Loren Legarda, the country’s champion on climate change called on preparing the country for a catastrophe like those that hit Bohol and Leyte and Samar. “better still give a hand in efforts to save the earth and avoid the catastrophe,” Legarda said.

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