Preparing for disaster | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Preparing for disaster goes against my grain. Indeed, preparing for something I don’t want to happen seems to me to somehow give the impression of welcoming it. Until now I have managed to ignore most doomsday warnings, never lost sleep over them, therefore, awakened to another fine day unsurprised.


But when Phivolcs came out with the bad news backed by hard data, it made me sit up and listen: A no-nonsense earth movement along the West Valley Fault that could reach 7.5 in magnitude is waiting to happen.


Surely no one will be disappointed if it doesn’t come as predicted, toward the end of the 400 years since it last happened. That’s 47 years away, and if it comes on the 47th year I will likely miss it—I will be 118 and out of here.


But people I know and love may still be around. So I’m anxious to haggle, for, say, another 100-year grace. In fact, scientists put the full, and most hopeful, count of the cycle at 600.


‘Big One’


California experts themselves say nobody can predict earthquakes accurately. Still, as prudence dictates, they are themselves preparing for their own “big one” along the San Andreas Fault, which cuts north to south across California; with an intensity of 7-8, it could redraw the whole US coastline.


But I imagine American cities have been quite strict about building safety and disaster preparations. I don’t see Californians leaving in droves or selling their real estate in a panic.


To be fair, we ourselves have been holding earthquake and fire drills, under the guidance of our barangay officials, and this has certainly heightened disaster awareness. The last big quake around our own West Valley Fault struck lifetimes ago, in 1658, leading scientists to believe the next one is long overdue.


At any rate, when it will strike is anyone’s guess, although where the fault lies is more or less known. Phivolcs has provided the public with suitable detailed maps, but little else. It’s like telling someone he has cancer, expecting him to be grateful enough to know, without telling him what to do: “Bahala ka na sa buhay mo.”


The 100-km West Valley traverses practically the whole Luzon. However, if it’s any consolation, we’re told that, unless one is on top of the fault or within five meters on either side of it, one need not prematurely worry.


Still, I wonder why the government has not given out such precautions that would fortify our chances for safety: What to do exactly for now? The very unpredictability of earthquakes, I would think, calls precisely for such precautionary advisories.




In the Aug. 4, 1968 earthquake, measuring nearly 7 in intensity in Metro Manila, a six-story commercial/residential house of reinforced concrete, Ruby Tower, collapsed; buildings around it bore serious structural cracks.


Lying 230 km northeast of the quake’s epicenter, in Casiguran town, Quezon province, Manila itself was not at all spared. In fact, in Ruby Tower alone, 279 were killed and about as many injured. Moreover, tsunami waves rolled across the sea, reaching up to the shores of Japan. So, where to relocate, indeed?


Such is the terror of earthquakes: they cannot be predicted in any way, unlike typhoons; the range and duration of its movement become known only after the fact. In life, they say, timing is everything, but apparently, with earthquakes, location, too, is especially critical. The Philippines itself happens to lie within the volcanic and earthquake Ring of Fire.


Checking the fault map, I realize my relative luck to not be sitting on top or any near the West Fault, but the house where two of my children and their families live is not far enough, though still relatively safer than others—that is, if anybody can feel safe at all in a 7-plus magnitude quake.


Simply, this earthquake demands respect; it calls for, at the very least, gearing up with an emergency survival kit, whistle and all.


New respect


Natural disasters are supposed to have claimed more lives than all wars put together. Yet, here we still are, albeit with a new respect for Mother Nature, who has a way of sometimes putting us in our insignificant place in the scheme of things.


But, again, somehow man has managed to live to tell the tale and start anew. Such, indeed, is man’s indomitable spirit. Nepal, scene of the last great one, which took thousands, is one noble case; for one thing, their schools have reopened.


Best to be constructive in our attitude, and nobody seems better at it than friend George Sison, who is convinced “our consciousness as a people can forestall an earthquake by overcoming our fears.” He urges us to, by all means, prepare, though not cower in fear—or worse, anger—of an anticipated nightmare.


He offers the most inspired suggestion yet: “Visualize the correction of the West Valley Fault.”


Right on, George!