Earthshaking Christmas

Earthshaking Christmas

The calm of Christmas in the time of COVID was shaken yesterday by a magnitude-6.3 earthquake centered in Batangas that was also felt in Metro Manila. People were attending mass in the epicenter, Calatagan town, when the quake struck at 7:43 a.m. Police reported that people remained calm and no injuries were reported.

At 10 a.m., another quake, this time with a magnitude of 5.2, struck Davao Occidental. Aftershocks were recorded in the quake-hit areas, but tsunamis were not expected, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

The temblor in Luzon, which was felt at Intensity 4 in Metro Manila, was not within the range of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in 1990, with intensities of up to 9 that killed over 1,600 people mostly in Central and Northern Luzon. But it’s a reminder about the continuing warning from seismologists, that the National Capital Region is ripe for the “Big One” – an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 from the 100-kilometer-long West Valley Fault that runs through six cities in the NCR and neighboring provinces.

Studies in previous years have projected that such an earthquake could kill up to 34,000 people in crowded Metro Manila, home to over a tenth of the country’s population, within an hour of the quake, with 90 percent dying from collapsed structures or fires expected to break out.

There are detailed maps of the West Valley Fault and the areas that are expected to be worst hit in case of the Big One. As a new year approaches, it is useful to remember that the country, which sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire, is one of the most prone to natural calamities. This year opened with the phreatic explosion of Taal Volcano, with the ash reaching all the way to Metro Manila and Bulacan. Earthquakes continue to rock the volcano island and surrounding areas. Volcanologists have not withdrawn their warning about a possible cataclysmic eruption that could bury entire towns.

The country is entering a new year amid an unprecedented pandemic, but there are other disasters lurking. Yesterday’s earthquakes should prompt a review of preparedness for natural calamities.