Philippines travel advice

If a major earthquake were to hit Metro Manila today, the devastation would be so big the disaster response authorities admitted they simply did not have the infrastructure that could cope with it. And it even looks like disaster preparedness program occupies a low priority among the different levels of government.

Up to 35,000 residents of Metro Manila would die and up to three million others would need to be evacuated. In addition some 175,000 buildings would be damaged, says reliable government sources. The pressure of collapsed buildings and the inability to rescue those who would be trapped inside would cause most of the deaths, the same report adds.

Recent Senate inquiries revealed the unprepared state of Philippine emergency response teams should “the Big one” hit the metro manila. A study funded by the JAICA and conducted by the Phivolcs revealed that most residential buildings and some high rises would collapse should the West Valley fault move.

The following are the Buildings, Malls, Barangays, subdivisions and villages in the NCR where the West Valley Fault Passes and may be affected seriously should a major earthquake occur: Spring Country Subdivision, Filinvest 2, Filinvest 1, Batasan Hills, Ayala Heights, Barangay Tumana, Barangay Pansol, La Vista, Loyola Grand Villas, Loyola Heights, Miriam College, Ateneo, Barangay Barangka, Barangay Industrial Valley Complex, Blue Ridge A, Eastwood Mall, White Plains, Green Meadows, St. Ignatius, Acropolis, Medical City, Valle Verde Villages, Tiendesitas, University of Life Pasig, St. Pauls Pasig, Barangay Kapitolyo, Dep Education, URC Plant, Barangay Oranbo, Barangay Bagong Ilog,Bgy. East Rembo, Bgy. Comembo, International School, Market Market Mall, Serendra, Bgy. Pembo, Bgy. Rizal, Mckinley Heights, Cypress towers, North Signal Village, Tribeca Private Residences, Buli, Asya Enclaves, Alabang Hills, Muntinlupa City proper, Tunasan, Susana Heights, Southwoods, De La Salle Canlubang and Stone Crest.

There are more buildings and facilities striding the said fault. Those indicated are the major areas and popular buildings and facilities. Here is a list of major transportation systems, roads and streets that may be affected by the “BIG ONE”: JP Rizal in Quezon City, Batasan San Mateo Road, Quezon City, Moscow Street, Quezon City, Katipunan Extension, Quezon City, A Bonifacio Ave., Marikina City, Marcos Highway, Marikina City, FVR Road, Marikina City, Eulogio Rodriguez Ave., Cecilleville st., Quezon City, Greenmeadows Ave., Quezon City, Ortigas Ave., Pasig City, Celery Drive, Pasig City, Dona Julia Vargas, Pasig City, Lanuza Ave. Pasig City, St. Martin St., Pasig City, Danny Floro St., Pasig City, Kamagong St., Pasig city, M Concepcion Ave., Makati City, C-5, Taguig City, Sampaguita st., Taguig City, Abbot st., Taguig City, Cuasay St., Taguig City, Manuel L. Quezon, Muntinlupa City, SLEX, Muntinlupa City, Don Jesus Blvd., Muntinlupa city, National Highway, Muntinlupa City, Estanislao St., Muntinlupa City, San Guillermo St., Muntinlupa City, Susana Ave., Laguna. Residents along the Laguna de Bay are not safe as well due to liquifaction or the softening of the soil which results in the sinking of the structures.

A tsunami from the lake may likewise be a big possibility in a high intensity earthquake. Residents living near these areas should consult architects and structural engineers to determine if they homes and buildings would be able to withstand a big earthquake. Authorities have started developing a disaster management plan in view of the recent earthquakes in the Pacific Ring of Fire which the Philippines straddles.

With its current population of 10 million, Metropolitan Manila, which is composed of 13 cities and four municipalities, is densely populated with several clusters and districts having high-rise buildings close to each other. Investigations done by various disaster units and fire departments a few years ago found many buildings did not even comply with construction standards and that these are prone not only to fires but also to damage by earthquakes of any scale.

With Metro Manila being the country’s political, economic and cultural center, “the national system will collapse” or at least severely affected, according to Cora Macasieb, Special Operations Officer II and acting division chief of the Directorate for Special Operations of the Metropolitan Manila Disaster Coordinating Council (MMDCC).

The magnitude of the devastation and loss of lives to be wrought by the “Big One” is beyond government’s control. “If this is true,” Engr. Arthur Saldivar-Salis said, “I doubt that any city in the world is prepared to manage this kind of disaster. Masyadong malaki ito. Mataas ang alarm nito sigurado” (This is too big. For sure, the alarm would be high).

The head of a disaster management department of a well-known international rescue agency who has seen the MMEIRS study shook his head, saying “Sa laki nito, hindi ito kakayanin ng gobyerno kahit ilang response unit pa ang mabuo” (The government cannot respond to this even it creates several response units).

Government authorities, such as MMDCC’s Macasieb, share the same view. Along with member local government units (LGUs) and other agencies, the MMDCC, which is under the MMDA is the overall implementing organization of the study. She admitted to Bulatlat that agencies including her agency, are not ready for the response services based on the study’s projected casualties.
“Aware naman tayo pero hindi talaga tayo handa, kulang din sa gamit. May Collapse Structure Search and Rescue Unit nga sa AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] pero di pa rin ganon katindi ang equipment” (We’re aware (of the implications of the study). We have Collapse Structure Search and Rescue Units under the AFP), Macasieb said. “But a lot of money is needed.”

Even the former MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando once said in a meeting that they are not really prepared for this one, Macasieb said.

Macasieb in particular said government is unprepared for a big number of evacuees “Yun ang malaking problema. Kahit nga DSWD [Department of Social and Welfare Development] namomroblema kahit sa street dwellers lang” (That’s the problem. Even the DSWD just now cannot cope with the number of streetdwellers).

Seminars for awareness and preparedness during disasters are being conducted in municipal communities. The LGUs might already know about the action plans in response to an earthquake scenario but, she said, MMDCC is having problems with local authorities.

“Napakahirapsa LGUs,” she said, “Kahit nga civil defense nahihirapan. Karamihan sa local governments di nagre-respond, di pinapansin letters nila” (It’s very difficult with the LGUs, even civil defense has problems (with them). Most LGUs ignore communications), she said.
Aside from lack of funds, Macasieb admits that the implementation of community-based disaster response plans has been stalled for several months. She points to the election campaign as one cause for the delay.
“Nagkataon na election kaya na-hamper ang [disaster] education program ng mga tao. Napakahirap sa local, kapag pumupunta kami, walang makausap nang matino dahil nasa kampanya ang mga officials” she lamented.

Macasieb admits though that the response system in the metropolis has improved. Response units are more alert now, she said. Most government agencies in Metro Manila now belong to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and almost all LGUs have their response units.

MMEIRS’ own “Earthquake Impact Reduction Plan for Metropolitan Manila” contains 100 action plans for a “safer Metro Manila.” The plans, which include monitoring equipment, would need financing and, laments Macasieb, money is not flowing.
Few scientists
To compound the problem Phivolcs has its own load of constraints. Dr. Norman Tungol of Phivolcs’ Geology, Geophysics, Research and Development Division (GGRDD) said that out of the agency’s 40 scientists, only three study faultlines in the country.

Phivolcs uses the global positioning satellite (GPS) system in monitoring fault movements. Because the sevice is expensive, only one is in use and is monitoring the Philippine Fault. And it would only by next year when the agency will start monitoring the West Valley Fault.
But Tungol also sees something wrong with the NDCC’s system, hinting that the Council’s own disaster monitoring and preparedeness management is faulty. “Problema kasi sa system ng NDCC, ang mga pumapasok don ay elected officials, minsan two years lang palit na naman, so pagkatapos ng isang term, kung papalitan, walang turnover” (The problem in the NDCC system is that it is led by elected officials. After two years, officials are changed and there’s no proper turnover), he said.

Meantime, Congress passed a bill that was meant to improve the country’s disaster preparedness. Called “An Act Strengthening the Philippine Disaster Management Capability,” or Republic Act No. 10121, the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo certified it into law on May 27, 2010.

Most disaster authorities and experts are one in saying that, given the constraints, mitigation can be one effective response during a disaster. And reducing the effects of earthquake would have to rely on public information and awareness. “Our safety also lies in our own awareness and capability,” said Macasieb.

Tungol agreed that awareness would prevent further harm in times of disaster but he noted that public awareness on disasters is not satisfactory.
Past earthquakes
Composed of 13 cities and four municipalities, Metro Manila is in Luzon island, where many earthquake faults, such as the Marikina Valley Fault, Philippine Fault, Lubang Fault, Manila Trench, and Casiguran Fault, lie in a north-south direction.

An earthquake that registered 7.7 on the Richter scale hit Metro Manila and the rest of Central and Northern Luzon killing 1,700 people. The “killer earthquake” also injured 3,000 individuals and displaced 148,000 more in Luzon. Property and infrastructure damage was placed at $2 billion.

On Aug. 17, 1976, an earthquake caused a tsunami or tidal wave that killed about 8,000 people in Mindanao. On Aug. 2, 1968, an earthquake caused the collapse of Ruby Tower buildings, leaving hundreds of people trapped underneath the rubble.

As part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the Philippines is one of the most seismically active regions in East Asia. The archipelago is situated in the collision zone of the Eurasian Plate sub-ducting in the west and the Philippine Sea Plate sub-ducting in the east.

The oblique convergence of the Eurasian and Philippine Sea plates leads to the development of the Philippine Fault System and other smaller shallow crustal faults. The Philippine Fault System is a major strike-slip fault structure that traverses the entire length of the archipelago and has produced several of the most destructive earthquakes in recorded history.

The Philippines registers around 1,700 earthquakes a year, but only around 16 are strong enough to be felt.

Emergency Preparedness: What To Do Before, During and After An Earthquake.
With the number of earthquakes increasing in several parts of the country, we offer the following information as public service. This brief guide provides information on how you can protect yourself and your family, before, during and after an earthquake.

What to Do Before an Earthquake
Earthquakes strike suddenly, violently and without warning. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake. Repairing deep plaster cracks in ceilings and foundations, anchoring overhead lighting fixtures to the ceiling, and following local seismic building standards, will help reduce the impact of earthquakes.

Six Ways to Plan Ahead
1. Check for Hazards in the Home
Fasten shelves securely to walls.
Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.
Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit.
Brace overhead light fixtures.
Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.
Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects.

2. Identify Safe Places Indoors and Outdoors
Under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or table.
Against an inside wall.
Away from where glass could shatter around windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall over.
In the open, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.

3. Educate Yourself and Family Members
Contact your local emergency management office or the Philippine Red Cross chapter for more information on earthquakes. Also read the “How-To Series” for information on how to protect your property from earthquakes.

Post these numbers beside your telephone: Emergency no. 117 for disaster rescue or nos. 911-1873, 912-5296, 912-2665, police, or fire department, your neighborhood hospital (listed on your directory) and which radio station to tune to for emergency information (DZMM or DZRH, 630 and 666 on your AM dial, respectively).

Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water. Guide your children how to dial the aforementioned emergency numbers.

4. Have Disaster Supplies on Hand
Flashlight and extra batteries.
Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
First aid kit and manual.
Emergency food and water.
Nonelectric can opener.
Essential medicines.
Cash and credit cards.
Sturdy shoes.

5. Develop an Emergency Communication Plan
In case family members are separated from one another during an earthquake (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), develop a plan for reuniting after the disaster.
Ask an out-of-town relative or friend to serve as the “family contact.” After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
What to Do During an Earthquake
Stay as safe as possible during an earthquake. Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and a larger earthquake might occur. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and stay indoors until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

If indoors
DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON on until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, load bearing doorway.

Stay inside until shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
DO NOT use the elevators.

If outdoors
Stay there.
Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits, and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 50 fatalities during the 1990 Baguio HYATT earthquake incident occurred when people ran outside of the buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

If in a moving vehicle
Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If trapped under debris
Do not light a match.
Do not move about or kick up dust.
Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

What to Do After an Earthquake
Check yourself for injuries. Often people tend to others without checking their own injuries. You will be better able to care for others if you are not injured or if you have received first aid for your injuries.
Protect yourself from further danger by putting on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves. This will protect your from further injury by broken objects.

After you have taken care of yourself, help injured or trapped persons. If you have it in your area, call 117, then give first aid when appropriate. Don’t try to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.

Look for and extinguish small fires. Eliminate fire hazards. Putting out small fires quickly, using available resources, will prevent them from spreading. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes. Fires followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 for three days, creating more damage than the earthquake.
Leave the gas on at the main valve, unless you smell gas or think it’s leaking. It may be weeks or months before professionals can turn gas back on using the correct procedures. Explosions have caused injury and death when homeowners have improperly turned their gas back on by themselves.

Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately. Avoid the hazard of a chemical emergency.
Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents may have shifted during the shaking of an earthquake and could fall, creating further damage or injury.

Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out if your home is unsafe. Aftershocks following earthquakes can cause further damage to unstable buildings. If your home has experienced damage, get out before aftershocks happen.

Help neighbors who may require special assistance. Elderly people and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.

Listen to a portable, battery-operated radio for updated emergency information and instructions. If the electricity is out, your local radio may act as your source of information. Get in touch with your local tanod-bayan at your nearest barangay to provide the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.

Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel one, drop, cover, and hold on! Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake.

Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines, and stay out of damaged areas. Hazards caused by earthquakes are often difficult to see, and you could be easily injured.

Stay out of damaged buildings. If you are away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe. Damaged buildings may be destroyed by aftershocks following the main quake.

Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights to inspect your home. Kerosene lanterns, torches, candles, and matches may tip over or ignite flammables inside.

Take pictures of the damage, both to the house and its contents, for insurance claims.

Avoid smoking inside buildings. Smoking in confined areas can cause fires.
When entering buildings, use extreme caution. Building damage may have occurred where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take.

Examine walls, floor, doors, staircases, and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing.

Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap except for washing.

Watch for loose cement, drywall, and ceilings that could fall, especially when you notice that your doors are jammed.

Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.

Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard. The behavior of pets may change dramatically after an earthquake. Normally quiet and friendly cats and dogs may become aggressive or defensive.