The 7.2 magnitude earthquake last week that severely damaged infrastructure in Bohol and Cebu and caused about 200 deaths has moved us to be more concerned about the high-intensity earthquake that is expected to occur in Metro Manila.
Apart from the fact that we reside in Metro Manila, it is also where the government and its departments, agencies and bureaus are headquartered, where the legislature convenes, where the highest levels of the judiciary are located, where news and information services are based, where much economic and financial activity are centered. If Metro Manila is devastated, it would be as if the entire country were devastated.
Between 2002-2004, apparently mindful of the just-around-the–corner disaster, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), MMDA and PHIVOLCS made a study called the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS) to “1) Evaluate seismic hazards, damages and vulnerability of Metro Manila”, and “2) Prepare framework of master plan for earthquake disaster management.”
Looking around our concrete jungle, it’s hard to imagine how we implemented, and learned from, the MMEIRS report. Watching and reading the news (including learning about the government’s delayed and inadequate assistance to the earthquake victims in Bohol), we know that we are not prepared in terms of our infrastructure, organization, resources and preparedness.
There are several possible sources of an earthquake that will affect Metro Manila. But based on the MMEIRS study the “West Valley Fault (WFV) and the East Valley Fault (EFV), which run north to south along the west and east edge of the Marikina Valley are thought to pose the greatest threat to Metropolitan Manila”.
There are many ways we should be addressing the threat, preventively and reactively. To help envision what we should be doing pre- and post- earthquake, we have taken an excerpt from the MMEIRS report projecting and detailing the immediate effects of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila.
The scenarios should help us realize what we could do now to meet the needs of the disaster we all know is coming.
1) Day 1
Evening. August 26, 2003 is a typical Tuesday, the traffic, the crowd, the sunset at 6:14 as announced by PAGASA. Except that today you are not coming home from work, but from the WORKSHOP at Shangrila Hotel. You are almost home, looking forward to a simple tinolang Manok that you know is stewing in your kitchen.
You get off from the bus and navigate your village road. As you are walking the last few meters to your gate, you feel a sudden jolt. It sort of pushes you forward. At first you don’t know what it is. But the ground continues shaking, up and down, sideways, getting stronger every second. You fall to the ground, unable to keep standing. You hear a booming sound. You hear screams from people inside their homes. You hear breaking glasses. Telephone and power poles sway violently. Then the power goes off. In front of you, the village road is heaving, as if you are riding waves. The strong ground shaking goes on for 50 seconds. It is the longest 50 seconds of your life.
The ground shaking has stopped but you remain on the ground, still feeling dizzy. You try to get up, your knees shake under you. People start pouring out of their homes. Panic and confusion are everywhere. Occasional cries and wails add to the confusion. Around you are toppled poles and fences, collapsed houses, cracked roads, broken water pipes.
You go home as quickly as you can. You recognize your family amongst the crowd on the village street. They are all home, shaken but unhurt. You let out a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks. But your family refuses to enter your home. A barangay leader gives instructions to you and your neighbors to move to the basketball court to keep away from objects that may fall or topple.
You move your family as instructed. You try to make a call to other relatives but your mobile phone has no signal. Still you dialed a number. It didn’t work. You finally walked back to check your home. But home is something you barely recognize. Everything seems to be piled up on the floor – appliances, shelves, books, lighting fixtures, family portraits, clothes, your prized Jollibee collectibles, even the tinola dinner.
Among the pile of mess on the floor, you pick up the old battery-operated transistor radio that your mother-in-law refuses to part with. You turn it on. At first you only get static. You play with the dials and catch this piece of news: PHIVOLCS issued a bulletin that says a devastating earthquake, with magnitude 7.2 generated by the nearby West Valley Fault, hit Metropolitan Manila. The ground shaking was felt at PEIS VIII in Metropolitan Manila. Weak to strong aftershocks are expected.
You rummage for blankets and go back to the basketball court. You try to think happy thoughts knowing this would be a very long night. You stay tuned in to the radio. News trickles in.
- There is a major power outage in Metropolitan Manila as well as in the neighboring provinces in Luzon.
- Telephone lines, including cellular networks, are down.
- Many residential houses are heavily damaged and collapsed.
- Some school buildings collapsed.
- A few hospitals are heavily damaged, ICU patients need to be transferred, and other patients need to be evacuated.
- Fires broke out in several residential clusters, chemical plants, and few other factories and hospitals.
- Hundreds, if not thousands, are estimated trapped dead or injured from collapsed or burning houses, buildings and factories.
- Abandoned cars, some damaged by falling objects, littered the streets of Metropolitan Manila.
Within the next few hours after the earthquake, the National Disaster Coordinating Council convened. Not all the member agencies have representatives immediately available.
2) Day 2-3
You are one of the more fortunate. No one is injured in your household. But your house is damaged and you are not sure if it will survive the next strong aftershock. Also, food and drinking water are becoming scarce. The barangay leaders and community members work together to provide for everyone.
Overnight you felt several moderate to weak after shocks. There is still no electricity, telephone communication, and water. Haze from burning buildings darkens the horizon. Fires still spread unabated.
News reports give more dismal picture of the extent of damage brought by the earthquake:
The President declares a state of calamity. She mobilizes the Armed Forces of the Philippines for rescue, clearing of debris, and construction of temporary shelters. She suspends schools and offices.
Philippine flags fly at half-mast.
PHIVOLCS confirms movement of the West Valley Fault after it conducted an aerial survey over Metropolitan Manila.
Volunteer rescue groups from Olongapo and Baguio City coordinate with the NDCC.
Back-up power generators are available only in critical public and private offices.
There are more reports of collapsed houses, now numbering in the thousands, mid-to high-rise buildings, and major bridges.
Many roads are impassable.
The LRT and MRT railways remain standing but not operational.
Reports of casualties continue to rise to several thousands.
Several thousand families have lost their homes and begin to occupy open spaces.
People rescued from collapsed buildings show crush syndromes and given medical attention on site in temporary medical shelters. They cannot be transferred immediately to hospitals because ambulances cannot get through the roads littered with debris and cars.
The police contain random acts of looting.
3) Day 4-7
You continue to occupy the basketball court. There is still no power, communication and water supply.
In the tent clusters that sprouted in parks and other open spaces, the lack of clean water supply makes the outbreak of infectious diseases a threat.
In hospitals, injured patients are lined up even along corridors. Again, the lack of clean water is a major problem.
Many people, especially children, suffer from shock, traumatized by the strong ground shaking, the sight of destruction, or being temporarily trapped.
Bodies exhumed from rubbles are lined up along the streets. The air has the distinct smell of decay.
International volunteer rescue teams coordinate with the NDCC. Rescue will continue in the next few days.
Clearing of debris will continue for several weeks to months. Bodies will continue to be recovered among building debris.
Relief goods are distributed in evacuation centers. Some evacuation centers receive more relief goods than others.
Neighboring Asian countries pledge and extend technical, medical and other forms of support.
The Government appeals to those with capabilities to join forces in responding to the disaster. Recovery and rehabilitation will take years and years.
The MEEIRS report (perhaps politely) omits the added chaos resulting from government corruption or political machinations in providing (or not providing) relief. The latest example of this being the reported actions of Maribohoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. in halting the Red Cross’ activities of doling out relief goods to Bohol quake victims because the Red Cross refused to hand over the relief goods to the local government for the latter to apportion and distribute the goods themselves.
Not to mention the additional mess arising from the likely lack of government funds and resources to help everyone. The Bohol earthquake occurred October 15, 2013. Philstar reports today, October 24, that Department of Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad “said the entire P7.5 billion calamity fund, as well as the P1 billion contingency fund “have already been wiped out.” Due to the disasters that fell upon different parts of the nation during the previous months, the funds were gone even before the earthquake happened.
So how do we prepare for the natural and man-made disasters? Try not to rely on the government too much. We are the best people to save ourselves. Talk to a structural engineer to check where your building/home is vulnerable and retrofit accordingly. Periodically have earthquake drills or discuss (and brainstorm) with family or co-workers ways to prevent damage/harm, and exit the house/building, when an earthquake occurs. Identify clear areas (parks and vacant lots away from structures that could topple or break) where you can camp out (for days) while you wait until the aftershocks end. Identify where you can easily access clean water. Purchase a fire extinguisher for when fire breaks out. Prepare a first aid kit readily accessible for when you are rushing to get out of the house/building when the tremors start. Have a reliable radio handy. Always have enough stock of water, medicines, batteries, flashlights, canned goods, crackers, other emergency supplies.
We may sound alarmist but we can’t turn a blind eye to what we know is a disaster that is sure to happen.