Metro Manila may crumble if 7.2 quake strikes – JICA

MANILA, Philippines - Light Rail Transit (LRT) structures are designed to withstand a 7.9-magnitude earthquake.

However, a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study revealed that Metro Manila would crumble if a 7.2-magnitude earthquake strikes.

The JICA study, conducted with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, was presented during a hearing last month of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security chaired by Senator Francis Escudero.

Expressing concern, Escudero reiterated his call on the urgency to update and strengthen the disaster risk and management capacity in Metro Manila.

Escudero made the call after a tsunami, triggered by a 8.9-magnitude earthquake, slammed Japan and left a swath of destruction and caused fears in coastal areas around the world.

He said there should be a comprehensive inventory of resources in order to appropriately respond to this type of disaster and its aftermath.

"We need to have a thorough audit of what expertise and logistics the agencies under the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) have so we can enhance, augment, and close whatever gaps are there in relation to our coping response and capability in the event of a natural disaster such as a strong earthquake," Escudero said.

The JICA study said Metro Manila was not prepared to deal with a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in terms of existing resources and given old building structures around and within the metropolis.

Such magnitude, the study showed, will result in major fires in Manila, Pasig, and Quezon City. Fire hydrants will not be enough that it would take seven days before authorities can declare "fire out" as major fire engines come from Quezon City and Pasig City, areas which are also at high risks.

Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) Spokesman Hernando Cabrera said a 2003 study made by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) showed that the strongest temblor that could hit the country is 7.2, a magnitude that is lower than the maximum magnitude LRT structures could handle.

He explained that LRT's design was based on the California Building Code because the Philippine seismic condition is similar to that of California.

"Just a while ago, I heard (Phivolcs Director Renato) Solidum as saying over the radio that the maximum earthquake that could hit the country is 7.2," Cabrera said.

With this, he said, it could be concluded that the LRT designs are strong enough to stand earthquakes that could hit the country," he added.

The problem is, Metro Manila can't withstand an earthquake with magnitude 7.2 and above.

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Solidum underscored the need for earthquake preparedness as he raised the probability of a strong earthquake hitting Metro Manila and certain provinces in Northern and Central Luzon.

Solidum said, citing a study called the "Metropolitan Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction" conducted by Phivolcs, that a 7.2-magnitude earthquake could devastate 40 percent of residential areas and 14 percent of high rise buildings in Metro Manila.

Solidum cited the Marikina fault line, now known as the Valley Point System, which runs from Sierra Madre to Sta. Rosa, Laguna. The line starts from the Sierra Madre and runs through Bulacan, Rodriguez, Rizal, Quezon City, the eastern side of Metro Manila, including Pasig, Taguig, Muntinlupa, San Pedro, and Sta. Rosa in Laguna and ends in Carmona Cavite.

He said a fault is classified active because it moved within the last 10,000 years.

He, however, said that since it is locked now the probability of having it moved now is close to zero.

"But of course we need to prepare," Solidum added. According to him, historical and geological records show that the Marikina fault line had moved four times within the past 1,400 years with an interval of 200, 400, and 600 years.

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