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Metro Manila urged to prepare for big quake

Experts say 7-8 magnitude tremor highly probable

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:32:00 06/17/2009

Filed Under: Disasters (general), Earthquake

MANILA, Philippines ?The ?big quake? feared to hit Metro Manila could happen anytime.

This may be a doomsday prediction, but Arjun Kartoch, head of the Emergency Services Branch of the United Nation?s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is the bringer of bad news this time, a decade after it was first predicted by seismic experts.

He re-issued the warning that an earthquake with a magnitude of about 7 to 8 on the Richter scale would hit the nation's capital region.

But although he was sure that the quake would occur, he did not cite a specific timeframe for the event.

He made this announcement on the sidelines of the four-day Second Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which started Tuesday to assess strategies to reduce disaster losses around the planet.

During Tuesday?s taping of the BBC show, ?World Debate,? hosted by Nik Gowing at the Centre International de Confrences de Genve here, Kartoch provided a picture of magnitude of the tragedy.

On the infrastructure side, buildings (hospitals, schools, establishments) and residential houses would collapse, he said, apparently simulating the impact of the quake based on urban congestion, population and buildings? quake resistance.

?You gonna have 16,000 buildings destroyed. You gonna have ? 150,000 who are injured,? said Kartoch.

Gowing noted that in that ?tragedy,? millions of residents of Metro Manila?with an 18 million population?would be displaced.

Kartoch said Senator Loren Legarda and officials of the Philippine government attending the biennial global meeting should prepare for the worst.

Legarda was invited to join the debate as Asia-Pacific?s regional champion for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation, which put premium on mitigating measures prior to the occurrence of disasters over the current emphasis on post-disaster response such as relief and rehabilitation measures.

The forum, to be broadcast on July 4 to about 80 million global viewers, had Legarda with the other panelists?Kartoch, Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, and Edward Borodzicz, professor of risk management at Portsmouth Business School in the United Kingdom.

Kartoch did not cite a specific study, but was quoting data culled over the years by the UN OCHA whose mission has been to mobilize and coordinate effective humanitarian action during complex emergencies and natural disasters, said Emmanuel de Guzman.

?Risk reduction is very good and useful, but it should not stop at the point (of disaster),? said Kartoch, who was skeptical of the risk reduction strategy.

Legarda noted that the prediction had been discussed for 10 years now.

?Thank God, the earthquake did not happen,? she said, informing Kartoch that ?preparedness is being done (and) we are prepared for that to the limits of our capabilities and resources.?

She said it was unrealistic to relocate now ?hundreds of thousands or millions of people? that could be affected.

?But I believe that risk can be reduced,? she said, pointing out that investing in disaster preparedness and risk reduction by building safe hospitals, safe infrastructures, and second, by having risk assessment studies in local government units were essential in mitigating the quake?s impact.

?Why build housing projects on earthquake faultlines ? at the foot of mountains where there could be landslides ? in coastal areas where there are rising sea levels and where there could be storm surges?? she asked.

The senator said that ?investment in risk is an investment in lives, not a cost.? She cited Albay province?s investment in mangroves and preemptive evacuation in times of typhoons, and China?s $3 billion investment in flood control which averted $12 billion in losses.

?It?s everybody?s business?international, national, local government units and communities all rolled into one. Not one sector should be (solely) responsible,? she said.

De Guzman, UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) advisor for Asia-Pacific, confirmed the coming quake, but was unsure when the catastrophic disaster would strike.

?The big earthquake is certainly coming. The question is when? No one can tell. It can happen today, tomorrow, or next year. But certainly there will be an earthquake,? De Guzman, who previously worked with the Office of Civil Defense of the NDCC, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

On July 16, 1990, an earthquake with a 7.8 Ms (surface-wave magnitude) struck Northern Luzon, producing a 125 km-long ground rupture that stretched from Dingalan, Aurora, to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, as a result of strike-slip movements along the Philippine Fault Zone and the Digdig Fault.

It killed an estimated 1,621 people, with most of the fatalities located in Central Luzon and the Cordillera region.

But amidst the latest warning, Legarda expressed optimism that the country could still prepare for an earthquake.

She said this was precisely the reason why the UNISDR was pushing for the institutionalization of the DRR, integrating them into the national, regional and local development policies and plans of countries.

Legarda, as chair of the Senate committee on health, held an emergency meeting on Wednesday with officials of the Arroyo administration here to assess the preparedness of Metro Manila and institute measures to mitigate the impact of the quake on both population and infrastructure.

?These should be done immediately, within the next 30 days,? she said. ?We must have a 30-day prescription of what can be done. It?s doable.?

She also invited to the meeting international experts on disaster mitigation such as Turkey and Bangladesh, which has championed community empowerment in drastically arresting disaster fatalities and losses.

?We must learn their best practices for possible application in the Philippines in the light of the OCHA doomsday prediction,? she said.

Besides Glenn J. Rabonza, executive director of the National Disaster Coordinating Council; Bernaditas Muller, the country?s main negotiator for climate change adaptation; and select officials of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Department of Health and Department of Science and Technology are attending the DRR second global session.

In an interview, Legarda said the national government, including local government units in Metro Manila, should immediately assess public edifices such as hospitals and schools in terms of their structural integrity to withstand such a massive tremor.

The senator said the government should set in place a ?metrowide and contingency planning? to prepare for the quake.

Legarda said she would ask the DOH to check the bed capacity of all hospitals in the capital region, and for the Department of Public Works and Highways to ensure the safety of commuters and motorists by assessing the quake-resistance of overpasses, bridges, flyovers and roads.

?Condemned buildings, including school dormitories, must be identified immediately, so that residents can be relocated to suitable areas,? she said.

?In the event of a strong earthquake, the public should be assured of a steady supply of potable water,? she said, stressing that ?lifelines? should continue to be accessible to the public such as communication, roads and safe transportation system.

Legarda also pointed the need to check the stability of billboards, which dotted major roads in Metro Manila.

?We should examine their capacities (hospitals and schools), identify evacuation centers like open areas, basketball courts, multipurpose halls that can serve as evacuation centers,? she said.

Legarda said the citizens had a pivotal role to play.

?We should encourage communities and families to have contingency plans,? she said, adding:

?What should families do when they are separated? Where should they go? The contingency planning should be up to the family unit, the basic unit of society.?

Even before sessions resume on July 27, Legarda will conduct consultation hearings to mitigate the impact of earthquake as predicted by UN OCHA.

A study in seismic hazard assessment of Metro Manila was published in 2000 in the Bulletin of Seismological Society of America.

The study was conducted by Alan R. Nelson and Stephen F. Personius of the Geologic Hazards Team, Central Region US Geological, and Rolly E. Rimando, Raymundo S. Punongbayan, Norman Tugol, Hannah Mirabueno and Ariel Rasdas of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

The study across the northern part of the west Marikina Valley fault, which lay only 10 km east of central Manila, indicated a recurrence interval of 200-400 years for magnitude 6-7 earthquakes on the fault, it said.

It said that a recent assessment of the earthquake hazard posed by crustal faults in cities such as Los Angeles and Seattle, and the economic and human loss resulting from recent damaging earthquakes in Northridge, California, and Kobe, Japan, highlighted the need for evaluating potentially active crustal faults in urban areas.

Manila is similarly subject to earthquakes on nearby crustal faults, as well as earthquakes on more distant plate-boundary faults (such as Philippine fault to the east of Manila).

The study did not accurately determine the time of each faulting event or determine specific earthquake recurrence intervals, but said that ?empirical relations between rupture lengths and magnitudes of historic earthquakes in similar tectonic environments also argue for earthquakes of magnitude 6-7 on the Marikina Valley fault system.?

The NDCC said that government has been preparing for the very strong quake.

Rabonza noted the intensification of earthquake preparedness drills following the recent tremor in Indonesia that killed more than 5,000 persons.

But Renato Solidum Jr., director of Phivolcs, said government was using earthquake strength of magnitude 7.2 from the Valley Fault System (formerly known as the Marikina Valley Fault System) "for planning purposes."

If the government failed to prepare, a quake with such magnitude would affect around 38 percent of residential buildings, 14 percent of high-rise buildings and 35 percent of public buildings in the metropolis, he had said.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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