POSTSCRIPT / March 17, 2011 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Quake-meltdown alarm is viral, will soon vanish

IT’S VIRAL: Like the tonsillitis-conjunctivitis combination that has just floored me, the general alarm raised locally in reflex reaction to the earthquake-nuclear disaster in Japan is viral.

Being viral, all that anxiety will run its course. The big to-do about reviewing our disaster preparedness, about rescuing trapped Filipinos, and preventing radioactive air, food imports and human arrivals from infecting our fair islands will be gone in 10 days to two weeks.

Our span of attention is notoriously short. In a few days, we will be talking of something else or lapping up a new scandal, with the devastation in Japan simmering in the back burner of our minds.

All those politicians, especially the senators and congressmen who have whipped up public hearings rather quickly, should fast-track their gimmicks and press releases while the viral interest on quake-meltdown jitters is still there.

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CRUDE SHOW: The televised press conference yesterday of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute was a disappointment, although it was not entirely the fault of the distinguished speakers but probably the organizers.

The six top scientists fielding questions at the presidential table had only one microphone which they switched on and off as they passed the tired gadget to one another. We do not have money to buy microphones? And then, the sound system was so bad that their voices could hardly be picked up.

Somebody at the lectern occasionally waved a piece of paper with a map, diagram or something that was useless because it was too small, too far and it kept moving. Nobody thought of preparing more professional visuals, or some PowerPoint-type big screens?

Many questions from media were answered satisfactorily, but the organizers could have done better. And then, since the presscon was televised, the resource persons should have been advised to speak Pilipino, not English with a Filipino accent.

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NOT QUAKE-PROOF: Now everybody is asking if our residential and office buildings, especially the high-rise structures, can withstand a force approximating the magnitude-9 quake that devastated Sendai in Northeastern Japan last week.

Without having to go into a legislative inquiry in aid of legislation, the quick answer to that is, “No, generally.”

In this benighted country, the dual rules are “puede na” and “bahala na.” Like traffic signs, building standards for public safety are persuasive, not coercive. We do not care until somebody dear to us is killed and an uproar ensues (and dies down after getting its viral attention).

Our standard for quake protection, following American standards, now calls for a maximum intensity of 0.4 g (acceleration due to gravity). With the upgrading, we saw the columns of overpasses in Metro Manila being encased with more concrete and, in some, a steel cylinder.

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CLOTHESLINE: Mention of overpasses and raised roads reminds me of the magnitude-6.9 earthquake in 1995 that hit populous Kobe (near Kyoto) where 10 spans of the Hanshin elevated expressway were knocked over like a clothesline.

That disaster prompted Japanese authorities to abandon the practice of sometimes using only one column to support an elevated roadway. They have changed designs to provide not one but now a pair of columns supporting the upper structure.

When the violent twisting action of a quake hits an elevated roadway that is held up only by singular columns and some of the posts sway to one side, the other columns are likely to follow and also give way – in a “clothesline” effect.

I think of this Kobe “clothesline” experience when I pass under the elevated light rail track connecting North EDSA and Balintawak. Some segments, like those near the Balintawak market and the Munoz area, look too high to be stable being propped up by singular tall columns.

I wish there were a pair of columns holding up the track in those high elevations. We should learn, like the Japanese did, from the Kobe “clothesline” swaying to one side and bringing down several sections of the elevated Hanshin expressway.

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WHO’S FAULT?: Talk of quakes and collapsing buildings has revived questions about the Marikina Valley fault zone/system, which is still active, and the Marikina Valley fault lines that pass through numerous densely populated areas and pricey gated villages.

Marikina Valley resulted from the land sinking or depressing in relation to neighboring areas. The valley is a “fault zone” or a “fault system.” The sinking of the land left “fault lines” in the east and in the west of the valley

Marikina authorities do not like the association with calamities and want their city’s name dropped, so now these active tectonic structures are called the Valley Fault System, the East Valley Fault Line and the West Valley Fault Line with no reference to Marikina.

Sometimes people talk of fault lines when they are referring to a fault zone, and vice versa. I am mentioning the Marikina case to illustrate the difference for those who are interested.

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CHECK THE MAP: The West Valley Fault Line passes through high-end villages, including what used to be Fort Bonifacio (renamed Global City without legislative action).

A real estate buyer at the Fort who is not that particular with details can end up buying where the West fault line passes. Developers and those about to construct buildings can get clear certifications from Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) if they are interested.

The map showing the fault lines can be accessed at the Phivolcs website (www.phivolcs.dost.gov). The East fault line is from San Rafael, Montalban, to Pasig City and the West fault line from northeast of Montalban possibly all the way to Tagaytay ridge in Cavite.

The physical signs of the fault in Fort Bonifacio and nearby villages have been obliterated by development, but the map has them.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 17, 2011)

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