The big one


FROM 1975 to 1977, when I was working as Senior Planner and Team Leader for Development Planning of the World Bank-funded Metro Manila Transport Land Use and Development Planning (MMETROPLAN) project, we studied the Marikina Fault Line (now West Valley Fault Line). Thereafter, in all projects I planned I would ask the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to indicate the location and alignment of the fault line so I could respect and designate the area as open space for non-developable, non-saleable, non-buildable areas including within five meters away from the fault line. Now, I wonder why so many structures, houses and buildings were allowed to be built on top of the fault line! There are about 44 signatories for government permits before a developer can develop and build. Meaning, there are 44 individuals from various government agencies who had the opportunity to stop the building of these structures but didn’t. Why?

When an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, Anna Coren of CNN interviewed me on the possible impact of an earthquake with a similar magnitude should it happen in Metro Manila. It was only then that I came across a study done by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2004 on Earthquake Impact Reduction for Metropolitan Manila, also known as the MMEIRS study. It assessed and quantified the impact and damage that the earthquake will cause. With the West Valley fault approaching its active phases according to PHIVOLCS, it would be important to look back at the MMEIRS study for guidance.

Urban Vulnerability: The first hour
According to the MMEIRS study, around 170,000 residential houses will be heavily damaged or collapsed (13 percent of total buildings), 340,000 will be moderately damaged (26 percent of total buildings) and 10,000 alongside of Manila Bay will be affected by liquefaction in the first hour of impact by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

Eleven percent of mid-rise buildings (10-30 storeys) and two percent of high-rise buildings (30-60 storeys) will be severely damaged or collapsed. Twenty seven percent of mid-rise and 12 percent of high-rise buildings will be moderately damaged.

Eight to 10 percent of hospitals, schools, fire stations, police stations and government offices will be heavily damaged or collapsed. Twenty to 25 percent will be moderately damaged.

A hundred kilometers of telecommunication cable and 30 kilometers of electrical cables will snap. There will be a failure of water supply because the dams and pipes will be severely damaged. A total of nine bridges will also be damaged.

Death tolls in the first hour could reach around 34,000 people and another 20,000 could become casualties in the succeeding hours because of the wide spread of fire and successive tremors that will occur. One-hundred-ten-thousand will be immediately injured but this number would most probably increase as post-earthquake scenarios came into play.

In the event of a “Big One,” rescue activities will be limited. As it is, it takes two hours to travel five kilometers on an average day in Metro Manila but with buildings and electrical posts toppled down, thousands of homes on fire, no water supply and debris, among others, it would take longer for rescuers to reach devastated areas. This is also assuming that our government forces and volunteers are safe and pieces of equipment are intact and operational. According to international assessment, help will come after 72 hours but because of Metro Manila’s urban sprawl and poor urban design, I think we can expect that will take more time.

Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group have sent 145 recommendations on disaster preparedness to the Office of the President — from Presidents Arroyo to Aquino. We recommended that we should immediately implement a strict structural audit of buildings that are earthquake- and fire-hazard. Structures weaken over time because of numerous vibrations caused by smaller intensity movements. Not to forget, houses and buildings that are old, and houses and buildings that have sub-standard designs.

The government should most especially retrofit and repair our major bridges, government buildings, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. They also need to dedicate more open spaces for evacuation sites and these sites should have a quick response team that can set up a clinic, clean water station, food quarters, place of worship and mobile communication, among others.

For the local government units, the barangay can make a checklist and identify who are the doctors, engineers, architects and other professionals in their respective communities. They are the closest individuals who can offer help before, during and after a disaster. The barangay can also make an updated checklist of equipment they have and request materials that are needed.

As individuals, we should also take it upon ourselves to be prepared and have a plan should an earthquake and other disasters happen while we are at home or in the office, among others. In Japan, awareness is high that even a school child knows what to do during an earthquake and other disasters. Most likely, rescuers and volunteers would first help out their loved ones before anyone else. Even in commercial flights, the emergency instruction is to make sure you put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put one on your child. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can save yourself first then others.


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1 Comment

  1. Sofronio M. Jucutan on

    Hi sir Jun,

    Good day! I am a student taking up Master of Science in Environmental & Resource Management at the University of Southeastern Philippines here at Davao City. My focus is in the area of urban planning. I’m in the stage of thesis writing.

    Coming across at your article, I am shocked at the death toll and casualties you projected that may happen with certainty in the event of an earthquake in the fault line areas in Metro Manila. I believe the level of awareness of the hazrds is poor, coupled with the inherent difficulties of relocating to safer areas. It is also of cultural upbringing such as the “bahala na” attitude and the prayer that “it may not happen in my life time”.

    Whatever is the attitude and level of awareness of the people, the collective safety of the affected residents is in the hands of the government, and in this case, that of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (or MMDA). Hence viable solutions be made. It is suggested that among other solutions bench-marked from the practices in most dangerous populated fault-line areas, the entire swat of the fault line must be vacated, fenced, and be made as tree plantation areas, or better still, be made as forest, complete with the components of biodiversity. It will bring people out of danger and at the same time Metro Manila will have a forest that will sequester carbon monoxides, carbon dioxides, sulfur oxides, ground ozone and other harmful gases. And the forest will give out fresh oxygen for the metropolis.

    While it needs a political will to do it, it is envisioned that it is a better pill to take to avoid a more painful disasters such as death of hundreds of thousands people and damage to property and infra-structure.

    Appreciate you comment to this idea, sir Jun.

    Sofronio “BJ” M. Jucutan
    CP No. 0917 704 5660
    Davao City