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The Haiti Disaster: Flashbacks From Luzon’s 1990 Killer Earthquake

January 13, 2010

A very strong earthquake rumbled through the impoverished island nation of Haiti in the Caribbean some ten hours ago.

I was just watching a CNN interview with Haitian President Rene Preval. He was distraught as he described how his government did not have any resources to cope with the catastrophe:

Reports have estimated the number of dead at some 100,000 of Haiti’s population of 9-million, 80 percent of whom live in poverty and survive on less than 2 dollars a day. This was the Caribbean nation’s worst earthquake in 200 years.

I’m still looking to understand the magnitude of the event. The people have been out on the streets for two days now, fearing the collapse of any remaining houses. The hospitals have been destroyed. Those that remain are full. I cannot live even in my own house.

(The earthquake destryed even the Presidential Palace in Port Au Prince and  the Congress building.)

The initial reports on  of the devastation from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake sent shivers up my spine as memories of the Philippines’ own killer quake of July 16, 1990 flashed back:

(Dagupan on July 16, 1990)

Baguio, July 16, 1990

I was managing a radio station in Quezon City back then and even while the quake was centered in far away Nueva Viscaya our entire office building shook like it was going to collapse.

In the days after, our news coverage centered of the immense human tragedy the earthqiake left as the cities of Baguo and Dagupan lay in ruins.

While Manila suffered no damage, the quake left some 1,00o people dead, most of them in Baguio and Dagupan City.

Here’s a recap:

The 16 July 1990 earthquake (Ms=7.8) produced a 125 km-long ground rupture that stretches from Dingalan, Aurora to Kayapa, Nueva Viscaya.
Damage to buildings, infrastructures, and properties amounted to at least P 10B, a part of which was caused by ground rupturing. Structures directly straddling the ground rupture were totally damaged as a result of large lateral shifting and substantial vertical displacement.
The earthquake caused damage over a region of about 20,000 square kilometers, extending northwest from Manila through the densely populated Central Plains of Luzon and into the mountains of the Cordillera Central.
The epicenter of the quake, which struck at 4:26 p.m., was north of
Manila in the Nueva Ecija province. The shaking went on for nearly a full minute. Collapsing buildings were the main cause of damage and death.

References here:

http://earthquake.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph/update_SOEPD/Earthquake/1990LuzonEQ_Monograph/foreword.html

Given the historical record and this latest event in Haiti I ask with much trepidation: how prepared are we, how prepared is our government for a repeat of the 1990 earthquake which was much sronger than today quake in Haiti?

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology back in 1990 did undertake copious studies in the aftermath of the 1990, including drafting recommendations on how our buildings could be made safer from massive earthquakes.

http://earthquake.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph/update_SOEPD/Earthquake/1990LuzonEQ_Monograph/pp145/pp145.html

Let’s hope and pray  that the lessons were indeed learned.

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