Thursday, March 17, 2011

Waiting For The Big One

When I look at buildings and bridges these days, the first thing I ask is if these structures can  withstand a powerful jolt.  The Sendai Earthquake last week has left a powerful mind-aftershock, that it keeps me thinking how ready are we to deal with a magnitude 8 quake.

This thought is driven by memories of  July 16, 1990. I was in school and our science teacher, Miss Cabacungan was about to introduce her lesson for the day.  Suddenly, the earth shook with such force,  all I could hear were the high-pitched sound of steel beams grinding against one another. The very bones of our classroom were being put to a test and my young mind could only grasp the seismic temblor by seeing  it as "two invisible giant robots having a sword fight at the quadrangle."

The city was spared from the destruction, but Baguio and Nueva Ecija were not.  Hotels collapsed in the city of Pines, while a school crumbled in Cabanatuan. The aftershocks were so frequent, we got used to the movement a week after the ground first convulsed.

I would like to think the city would be spared the next time a quake happens.  But simulations and projections - from expert city planners to seismologist - tell of a different story.  With high-rises sprouting like stale mushrooms, unchecked, and  open spaces being gobbled to make way for new structures. With money changing hands with government officials - the  same wad of cash that could be spent to improve the materials used for building construction. With building codes substandard and tainted with self profit, there is reason to get scared these days.

The day the big one comes with its epicenter at the Valley Fault, first to go will be electricity. As buildings and houses shake, Meralco has to cut the power supply or fires will burst out across the city. Poorly-built dwellings would collapse in minutes trapping thousands under the rubble. Phone lines would be jammed and depending on our digital infrastructure, Internet might be down too.

There will be no Facebook and Twitter to rant our emotions

Knowing our values, panic ensues.  The next day, supermarkets, groceries and even sari-sari stores will  be swamped by people hoarding basic necessities.  Long lines form around working ATM machines since many people keep their money in banks. Hospitals - those that remain standing after the quake will be hard-pressed to attend to the needs of many. Some might even turn down patients being not able to handle the injured anymore.   

Unimaginable scenes - from tsunami engulfing towns and cities around the bay, to an exodus of people flooding bus stations and ports to flee to the countryside, to wholesale looting of stores and homes as soldiers try to push away starving masses, to a ruined, burning cityscape, without water, without electricity and rotting with corpses that was once the heartland of the country.

Letting  this off my chest has somehow eased my troubles. But drawing up plans and applying it - to make sure my loved ones will have a good chance of getting through the big one leaves me disturbed, still.       


Yj said...

i would like to think that the worst had happened to us...

dabo said...

it is indeed very disturbing. it's about death and destruction..

i agree about drawing up a plan. extra gallon of water (pero not to be stored), a reasonable amount of easy cook foods in the cupboard. extra cash. alcohol and over the counter meds..

it is in surviving the real ordeal lies

just in case we will not be harmed or our community damage, we can give away this stuff for those who need it the most.

Sean said...

as i was reading this, very vivid images came to mind due to the way it was written (like it much). as you mentioned, this is indeed a powerful mind-aftershock. and i am scared. not so much for myself but for my loved ones.

we may not have nuclear reactors, but we have oil pipelines.

you were right in your previous discussion. another haiti comes to mind.

datu/the wilted prune said...

I hate to admit it myself, but a Marikina Valley earthquake would absolutely be the end of Metro Manila as we know it.

Mu[g]en said...


I don't want to admit it myself, Mistress.


The underground pipelines, I'm not aware of. But we live just a stone throw away from the oil depot. What separates us is a might river threatening to liquefy every structure around it.

Mu[g]en said...


What hesitates me from undertaking such preparation is what if your dwelling place collapses or worse, burns?


I wish that too.

Anonymous said...

the worst and most horrific scenes happen everyday
be not afraid =)

-Désolé Boy

red the mod said...

Man-made structures have an innate senescence to them. The implacable truth is that there is nothing our specie can create or build that will be able to sustain the passage of time, and resist the action of weathering. The world is in a constant state of enmity, and change is inherent in nature. In, this, our setting.

What designers need to realize is that we need to stop trying to build against nature, but rather respect this context we inhabit. This edifice complex egoistic designers have prevents us from doing the more logical, although immensely challenging, solution - to design structures that collapse safely.

No building is ever worth more than a human life.

The process by which this perspective could be applied and valuated is still nascent at best. Most of the research leans towards efficiency and counter-measures, creating invasive safety features that protect localized and specific areas in a structure. But if we are able to expound on this approach, maybe there's hope.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Japanese have always known this. Wabi-sabi is embedded in their culture. For example, the Ise Shrine (its two main shrines) is rebuilt every twenty years on the same spot (of two plots, adjoining each other), with the same complex jigsaw joinery of stacking members, down to the precise and identical size and method, the same way it was first built.