Not a major earthquake
That the Philippines is smack in the Pacific Ring of Fire where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are nothing extraordinary was once more driven home when a 6.5 magnitude temblor struck Eastern Visayas on Thursday afternoon. Aftershocks as well as the announcement of an extended power outage in the provinces of Bohol, Samar, Biliran and Southern Leyte and parts of Leyte have added to the residents’ sense of devastation.
The quake was felt strongest in Leyte’s Kananga town and Ormoc City. It caused a three-story building in Kananga that housed a grocery, a hardware store and a pension house to crumble to the ground. A man, Jerry Novilla, was killed; he was among the 60 beneficiaries of the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program who were attending a seminar in the building.
Cracks formed on the Palo-Carigara-Ormoc Road and bridges such as Campokpok Bridge. A landslide occurred in Barangay Rubias in Jaro.
In Ormoc, treasurer Delia Vilbar was at a meeting on the second floor of City Hall when the earth moved. She recalled: “It was very strong, and the building was shaking. I sat down while others in the room went under the table.” In the street, she saw people crying and hugging.
Frightened schoolchildren came running out of school buildings in Tacloban City. “They were obviously panicking,” said Gina Esperas, mother of a fourth grader. “There was commotion as the children all wanted to get out of their classrooms.”
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), the fatalities numbered two as of Friday —Novilla in Kananga and another killed by falling hollow blocks in Ormoc. The NDRRMC also reported a total of 72 people injured and warned about aftershocks and further damage.
As the concerned government agencies do what they are trained to do, it is terrible to remember that the same area was devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November 2013 — and the residents are still recovering.
But this new quake shook loose dreadful memories of the one that hit the area earlier than Yolanda. On Oct. 5, 2013, a 7.2 magnitude shocker hit Bohol and Cebu, ravaging 17 towns. More than 222 people were killed; more than 8,000 houses were destroyed, rendering 95,884 families homeless.
The Thursday earthquake is in fact the second big quake of the year, after the 6.7 magnitude quake that hit Surigao last February, killing eight people and injuring more than 200. The NDRRMC estimated the total damage to infrastructure at P108.45 million, with more than 1,000 houses damaged.
Perhaps the best news in this situation is that the Thursday quake is nowhere near as devastating as the ones in the past. Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology director Renato Solidum Jr. actually said it should not be considered a major earthquake.
But for a nation edgy over the “Big One” feared to occur along the 100-kilometer West Valley fault, which may kill more than 37,000 people and injure more than 600,000, every movement of the ground may seem “major, major.” Though said in 2015, the words of urban planner and architect Felino Palafox Jr. remain resonant: “While there are efforts on the part of the government, the Philippines remains largely unprepared for such an eventuality, with many of the country’s bridges and old buildings needing reinforcements and retrofitting to withstand such a strong force. ”
Hopefully, Filipinos have learned lessons to help them when earthquakes occur, as these inevitably will. In Bohol, government agencies learned to deal with the overwhelming number of evacuees, eventually succeeding in moving them from temporary shelters to permanent housing. Bohol taught us that a continued effort is required, and indeed reconstruction and rebuilding are still ongoing.
The most conspicuous effort must be the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s Metro Manila Shake Drill, conducting one just recently, in which millions of employees and students simulated what would happen should the Big One hit.
Meanwhile, here is another serious task on the government’s already full plate. Malacañang announced it was deploying “all available resources” to help the quake victims, but it behooves the private sector to once more rise to the occasion and do what it can to ease the burden of the stricken.
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