Temblor taught Dagupan City how to prepare
DAGUPAN CIT, Philippines—Mayor Belen Fernandez was inside a newly opened family-owned movie house, supervising its operations on July 16, 1990 when the building shook and moviegoers started running to the exit doors.
“I thought it was already the end [of the world],” says Fernandez, who was at the helm of her family’s supermarket business at that time, when she saw the extent of destruction that the 7.7-magnitude earthquake wrought on the city minutes later.
Because of liquefaction, a phenomenon where water-saturated loose sand and silt underground behave like liquid when shaken by an earthquake, buildings in the city’s business area either sank or tilted. Fernandez’s stores were not spared.
She remained calm and alert amid the widespread panic and massive destruction, although she was worried about the safety of her loved ones.
“When I learned that everybody in my family was safe, my fear vanished. I focused my attention on how we could quickly reopen because we were selling food items and people needed food at that time,” she says.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, seven people died in a stampede in another movie house.
The city had since risen from the rubble, reclaiming its position as Pangasinan’s business, health and educational center.
Fernandez’s family business had also flourished to become a chain of supermarkets and malls in Pangasinan and La Union.
If there is an important lesson learned from that devastating earthquake 25 years ago, it is having to accept that calamity can happen anytime, Fernandez says.
“Now, as city mayor, we have to be prepared if, God forbids, an earthquake of the same magnitude happens again in our city,” she says.
Nicanor Melecio, chair of Pangasinan Institute for Land and Aquatic Research and consultant of the city government, says the city is now fully equipped to deal not only with a 7.7-magnitude earthquake.
“We are prepared for a 8.4-magnitude earthquake that may be generated by the Manila Trench (a fault line in the West Philippine Sea), which may also trigger a 7-meter high tsunami,” Melecio says.
Fernandez says the city government’s preparation began about two years ago when she began investing in equipment needed for disaster response. She also organized the Public Assistance and Response Management Center (PARMC), an umbrella group of different agencies involved in disaster response.
“We have bought our own fire truck, rescue truck, backhoe, water pump and ambulances for the PARMC. We have to invest to save more lives. We cannot do anything without equipment and vehicles we need,” says Fernandez.
But more than the PARMC, the city government now has a capability to anticipate a likely scenario should a strong quake generate a tsunami that may hit Dagupan, Melecio says.
He says PARMC has evolved to be a Smart Operations Center (SOC). “We [rely on instruments], [we are] highly interconnected or hyperlinked and our system is ‘intelligent,’” he says.
The SOC boasts of an earthquake intensity meter, a tsunami early warning system and inundation modeling maps combined with a geographic information system for the city’s evacuation plan.
“We will have 14 minutes from the time the tsunami sensor picks up the wave to scramble the people to safety. We can also alert the mayor to make decisions from her end,” Melecio says.
The 14-minute window, Melecio says, should be more than enough for residents to move to their preassigned evacuation centers in their villages.
“Fourteen minutes is too short to move people out horizontally. They can only move up,” he says. A team of volunteer architects and engineers has identified and accredited buildings that can withstand a magnitude 8.4 earthquake and 7.22-m tsunami in the city.
Melecio’s team has developed a software identifying these buildings in a map as well as residents of specific villages who will use a particular building.
“This is where I have proven to my satisfaction that there are still Dagupeños who love their neighbors by donating the use of their buildings,” he says.
He says if the accredited building owners will eventually agree, at least 144,000 people will be accommodated. Food packs and medical kits will be prepositioned in these buildings, he adds.
Melecio’s team and the city disaster risk reduction and management office (CDRRMO) have been conducting regular drills for residents in the villages.
Fernandez says she has also requested for funds for the construction of an evacuation center in the island village of Salapingao, which is facing the Lingayen Gulf. “It will be a three-story building with a rooftop and stilts,” she says.
The CDRRMO, she says, has been emphasizing family preparedness so they would know what to do when an earthquake strikes. “They can talk about where to see each other if, for instance, communication facilities break down,” she says.
The city has also been conducting mitigation activities, such as planting coconuts in the shorelines and providing free swimming lessons for children. “We have been building dikes along the Pantal River… We will also be building 400 core shelters for our people living near the creeks and rivers,” Fernandez says.
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