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Two choices on the ‘Big One’

The other day a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia. Occurring in the Indian Ocean, the tremor struck off the coast of Padang, a city on the west coast of Sumatra.

Although no reports of deaths or of major damage emerged, with authorities eventually lifting tsunami warnings, the earthquake triggered fear among not just Indonesians but also other people living in the bigger neighborhood of the Indonesian archipelago, particularly in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire.

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The Philippines is especially vulnerable. Metro Manila in particular is considered to be “long overdue” for the “Big One,” an earthquake expected to result in the deaths of thousands (maybe even in the hundreds of thousands) and immeasurable damage to property. Of course, as geologist Kelvin Rodolfo says, the temblor could occur tomorrow, next week, next month, or in the next few years. But it’s clear that with all the warning signs we’ve received and the studies conducted by foreign and homegrown experts, we have to start preparing now to mitigate the damage that the predicted earthquake will bring.

Rodolfo, who was in town recently, says we have two choices on what to do to brace for the coming earthquake—for, regardless of when it does occur, the “Big One” is surely coming.

“We can take the earthquake threat seriously,” says Rodolfo for starters. We can “prepare for it with disaster preparation such as earthquake drills in all schools and NOT worsen the potential disaster by building the [proposed] Laguna Lake Expressway Dike and Manila Bay reclamations.”

The other choice, he says, is: “Let’s pretend that the earthquake will never happen, and build reclamation projects in the lake and Manila Bay.”

“We cannot rationally do both,” he concludes.

* * *

Rodolfo is referring to two projects involving reclamation of land from bodies of water and building on the reclaimed area. One involves the construction of the proposed Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike, which calls for the building of an alternative expressway on top of a dike built on land reclaimed from Laguna de Bay. The other is the reclamation of land from Manila Bay, aimed at creating an “urban waterfront development with space for commercial activities” that will also serve as a “coastal sea barrier” along with an expressway.

Opponents of both projects are understandably anxious that the government (including whoever wins in the May elections) could simply approve the proposals, given the “big names” backing them. San Miguel Corp. and New San Jose Builders, the company that constructed the Philippine Arena, are major players pushing for the Manila Bay project; among the potential bidders for the Laguna Lake reclamation is the Team Trident Group, a joint venture among Ayala Land Inc., Henry Sy’s SM Prime Holdings Inc., Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc., and Megaworld Corp.

Ranged against these big names in real estate commercial development is a motley group of concerned citizens, including Church officials, fisher families, schools, cultural workers, urban poor groups and historians. Fortunately, they also have Rodolfo on their side. The renowned geologist who is most famous in the Philippines for his pioneering work on lahar in the wake of the 1990 Northern Luzon earthquake, has visited the country from Wisconsin where he currently resides after retiring from his university post, just to spread the word and introduce and popularize scientific concepts and data to back assertions about the dangers posed by both projects.

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* * *

“Very dangerous” is how Rodolfo describes the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike, which will stretch from Bicutan to Los Baños, on the shores of Laguna Lake. Among his assertions:

“If the project is constructed and protects Metro Manila from lake-water floods, people living elsewhere along the lake will suffer, simply because the flood water will have to go somewhere.”

“Reclamation would reduce the size of the lake, so storms would make higher floods than before.” (Note that towns on the lakeshore already suffer from floods even months after a major typhoon and flooding.)

While it is true, says Rodolfo, that “real estate interests will profit greatly from the reclaimed land, and people wealthy enough to own cars will enjoy reduced travel time from Bicutan to Los Baños … reclamation would displace poor people from their lands, homes and livelihood.” And, God forbid, if the dike fails, “it would be a catastrophe.”

* * *

The greatest hazard posed to the Laguna Lake project is an earthquake, says Rodolfo. In the event a 7.2 earthquake hits Metro Manila, he says, “the entire 2- to 3-kilometer wide strip of land adjacent to the lakeshore, the WMV fault zone, would experience Intensity 9 on the Phivolcs Earthquake Intensity Scale.”

The aftereffects of such a temblor would consist of “most buildings totally damaged, … bridges and elevated concrete structures (the dike and expressway!) toppled or destroyed, … water sewer pipes bent, twisted or broken, … landslides and liquefaction, … ground distorted into undulations, … boulders thrown out, … river water splashing violently or slopping over dikes and banks.”

It’s a scene straight out of a disaster movie, but not even the best CGI effects would approximate the suffering and devastation a real-life earthquake could wreak.

We had a foretaste of the chaos and pain with the “shake drill” conducted last year, even if everyone knew it was just pretend. But the really strange thing is that, despite this foreknowledge, our government and private developers persist in pursuing projects that will endanger even more lives and put us all in peril. What gives?

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TAGS: Big One, Earthquake, Indonesia, Laguna Lake Expressway Dike, Manila Bay, Reclamation
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