The Best Time To Prepare Was Yesterday

The collapse of  the belfry of the Sto. Nino Church in Cebu City due to the magnitude 7.2 earthquake last Tuesday, October 15, 2013. Source: ABS-CBN News via YouTube

As of this writing, 156 people died and more than 3.2 million others affected by the massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Central Visayas last Tuesday (October 15, 2013). We fear that the death toll would “rise as rescuers and relief workers reach some of the isolated towns hardest hit by the disaster.” (Rappler) Other than 10 iconic, centuries-old Catholic churches that crumbled like sand castles, “[e]stimates for the cost of damaged roads, bridges and flood control infrastructure are at P75.15 million.” (Ibid)

Panic during quake caught on CCTV. Source: YouTube

At the risk of sounding morbid, the question has to be asked: “What’s the scenario when a major earthquake with that magnitude hits Metro Manila?”

Note that I did not say “if” but “when.” Apparently, according to experts, “a Magnitude 7 or a stronger earthquake … could hit the capital every 200 years.” (Inquirer)

After “a closed-door meeting” with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino, Philippine Medical Association President Leo Olarte said, “At the moment, we are not asking if this kind of a megadisaster can happen in Metro Manila. Our question now is when will this happen. So far, the little-known 200-year earthquake cycle in Metro Manila has already elapsed, so this nightmare can happen anytime. … We need to prepare now and be ready for the worst scenario.” (Ibid)

Images of the recent earthquake in Central Visayas. Source: YouTube 

Yes, you read it right. We are “due” for an earthquake anytime now.

Quoting the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS), Olarte sounded like a doomsday prophet.
A once-in-200-years earthquake that can hit the Philippines can wipe out 20 percent of Metro Manila. Roads will be made impassable and simultaneous fires will ensue… Within an hour, 38,000 people will be killed and more than 100,000 will be injured. The megaquake will also topple at least 13 percent of the 170,000 residential buildings and will leave 1.2 million people homeless… It can also damage 20 percent of the vital facilities such as hospitals, government centers and schools… (Ibid. Emphasis added.)
But, the final report of the MMEIRS way back in March 2004 paints a grimmer picture.
Since 1900, more than 30 earthquakes have caused some damage to Metropolitan Manila. Many faults have been identified around and within Metropolitan Manila, but the Valley Fault System that runs north to south along the west and east edges of the Marikina Valley is thought to pose the greatest threat to Metropolitan Manila due to its close proximity. … The damage estimation of a potential rupture of the West Valley Fault, is that 40% of the total number of residential buildings within Metropolitan Manila will be heavily or partly damaged, and the earthquake will cause approximately 34,000 deaths and 1,144,000 injuries. Moreover, fire spreading as a secondary effect of the earthquake will cause an additional 18,000 deaths. (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology website.)
One thing is sure: Once an earthquake of magnitude 7 or more hits Metro Manila, it will be destructive.

We cannot and should not tolerate any delay in the preparation.

For one, we need a stricter implementation of our building code. According to the MMEIRS
Building seismic diagnosis results for 80 public buildings identified that 45% of the building have basic or suspicious structural problem but on the other hand 55% of the buildings are sound. Building damage estimation results using the worst case scenario indicates 8 to 10% of the building will collapse or be heavily damaged and 20-25% of the buildings will be partly damaged. … Metropolitan Manila will suffer from fire that would burn down some 1,700 hectares of land and kill 19,300 people in the event of the earthquake because there are so many wooden buildings and hazardous facilities. Such areas as squatters are physically vulnerable to fire, and there exist hazardous facilities and materials in places. (Ibid)
Yes, the government through MMDA already came up with the response plan codenamed “Oplan Metro Yakal.” I presume it is not just plan to respond to a devastating earthquake after it happened but even before it happens. But just looking at our government’s track record as far as preparing for and mitigating the adverse impact of recent calamities such as typhoons makes one afraid of what could and would happen in case of a major earthquake. If that would be our measure, then we are much way behind.

The best time to prepare was yesterday. The next best time is now.


  1. Earthquakes, unlike typhoons, cannot be predicted as when it will happen. I think the best time to prepare is now. We cannot do anything with time that is lost!

    I hope that people in Cebu and Bohol will be able to recover from the tragedy that has just occurred in their places.


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