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Earthquakes – Could the Destruction in Haiti Happen in the Philippines

Friday morning I was at the computer and watching CNN and its reporting on the earthquake and discussions about the destruction in Haiti when all of a sudden the room started swaying. Elena looked at me and said, “we are having an earthquake, what should we do? “ I just sat for a moment and waited. After about 15-20 seconds, it stopped. There were no aftershocks and we were left just talking about it.

Later it was reported to be a 5.3 level earthquake and 31 km south of Tagum. I am not sure the distance from Davao City.

I had lived in Southern California for 18 years and felt many earthquakes, but never experienced one where there were no high frequency vibrations and just a swaying feeling as if in a boat.

While looking at the new reports and views of all the destruction, I thought about if this could happen here in the Philippines. Yes, it can but it would need a bigger earthquake. As I heard from the report, many of the buildings are built with masonry block but no structural steel reinforcements.

Being in the Asian “Ring of Fire” an area from New Zealand through Asia to Alaska, there are many earthquake faults and active volcanoes. As we have seen over the past years there have been many earthquake activity in the Philippines, China and Japan. Recently there was a volcano activity on Luzon. It has not been much in the news so I think that threat has calmed down.

Regardless of where a natural disaster happens, it is a tragedy.  The loss of homes and life is something nobody wants to hear. It is even worse that some of these loss of life could be reduced with lower populations crowded into small areas with homes built on top of each other and such a density that would never exist in a first world nation. With good and enforced zoning laws and well-engineered construction technologies, many of these problems would not exist.

We have seen much destruction in the Philippines not too long ago when Luzon was hit repeatedly with Typhoons. Flooding and mudslides causing loss of life, homes and agricultural areas destroyed. Sound planning, construction, planting conservation and drainage could defiantly help. However, as I see in Davao, once everything is over built over many years, how do you tear everything down and start over.

Maybe with a natural disaster wiping out an area, once it is rebuilt it could be zoned and controlled to do better. I can remember where whole neighborhoods in South Florida were gone after Hurricane Andrew. From working in the architectural industry in South Florida after this tragedy, I saw how the building codes and inspections became more and more stringent.

We are to learn from our past. I hope this will be a learning experience for Haiti and homes and buildings will be constructed better for their future.

7 Responses to “Earthquakes – Could the Destruction in Haiti Happen in the Philippines”

  1. Steve in Davao says:

    Bruce,
    We have sat thru several earthquakes since arriving here in November. I’m originally from Ohio and we just didn’t experience many earthquakes there. After seeing the devastation of the Haiti earthquake and all the news coverage, I am glad to say, we have rethought our earthquake strategy.
    On Friday morning, our daughter was watching cartoons and I was working at my desk. My wife was in the shower and our niece was in the kitchen. The house started moving and I immediately grabbed my daughter and yelled for my wife and her niece to get to the center of the street.
    I was surprised at how many other people had done the same thing. As we, and many of our neighbors, stood in the street, we sort of laughed nervously at ourselves. My daughter stood in her t-shirt and underwear and my wife in wet clothes. Even so, we were safe. As we talked later that day we decided to practice an earthquake drill, as we had practiced fire drills in the states (did I mention I’m a retired firefighter?). Well, we now have an emergency plan for our home here.
    I recommend fire and earthquake drills for all families. Have a meeting point, outside the home, so everyone can be accounted for. Looking for your family, especially kids, during a middle of the night emergency can be earth shattering. I can tell you wonderful stories of arriving at a house fire and finding the whole family clinging together, frightened but safe. I can also tell you stories of hysterical parents trying to crawl back into houses, fully involved in fire, as their kids screamed inside or lay died or dying. Please take the time now. Don’t put it off another day. We can, at least, try to be prepared.
    You can contact me thru Bruce and I’ll be glad show you how to set up an emergency plan for your family.
    P/S….Please keep the people of Haiti in prayer
    Steve in Davao

    • Bruce says:

      Steve,
      With your background, you are smart to develop your escape plans for the family.
      One thing that scares me in the Philippines is the security bars on the windows. If there is any fire and the exits are blocked, there is no second means of egress from bedrooms. As you know in the states, there are building and fire codes requiring 2 means of egress.
      At least here, most homes are constructed with masonry blocks and they do not burn. Only the paint furniture and personal items are flammable.

  2. I’m not really bothered by it, I taught my children how to survive. Mandaluyong used to have them for about 2-3 minutes, but I lived through it. Probably the difference now is that we live in a concrete building from the wooden house that we used to have in Maysilo. But I don’t think that we should worry about it too much, I guess the only cure to this worries is to prepare ourselves, like always stack on food and flash lights and medicines. Know where to head out, etc.

  3. Evelyn says:

    prayers are said for the people who are affected by the tragedy in Haiti..
    i pray for them

  4. Tom Martin says:

    I to was shaken by the earthquake that day after what had just happen in Haiti. I had never paid much attention to the earthquakes that day. I walked around the house inside and out to see if there were any visible cracks. I am not all that confident with the construction of my home although it is only two years old. I know bars were used to reenforce the blocks, but in my opinion it did not seem like enough. Without the quake I had just finished spending money in November/December having outside cracks repaired. I am not as unconcerned about quakes as I once was.

    • Bruce says:

      Tom,

      Here they do use reinforcing rebar and fill most of the holes in the hollow blocks. While looking at the rubble on the news I see no steel. So it is just blocks and mortar and that is why it all just fell down.

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