Due to its geographical location, the Philippines will always be prone to natural disasters. Destructive typhoons, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides and, from time to time, tsunamis will always be part of the Filipino’s life, and as such, everybody should always be prepared to cope with such emergencies.
Here is a quick survey of past tragedies culled from different websites, among them the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (DENR-MGB), Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs), the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).1968 collapse of Ruby Tower.
In August 1968, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake rocked Manila, leaving 270 people dead when the 6-story Ruby Tower collapsed. With the epicenter in Casiguran, Aurora, the earthquake was felt from Quezon Province all the way to Ilocos.1976 Moro Gulf tsunami.
In August 1976, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the Moro Gulf leaving the cities and provinces of Cotabato in ruins and creating a tsunami that left more than 6,000 dead. Many more were rendered homeless or missing and millions of pesos was lost due to the extensive damages in properties and loss of livelihood. The tsunami destroyed villages that dotted the 700 kilometers of coastline in Pagadian City.1990 Bohol earthquake.
The year 1990 was characterized by as series of strong earthquakes, starting in Bohol, which was rocked by a 6.8 tremor in Feburary 8. Ground fissures, landslides, and rockfalls were observed particularly in the towns of Jagna, Valencia, Duero, Guindulman and Garcia Hernandez. Two historical churches built centuries ago and close to 200 houses collapsed while another 3,000 homes, buildings and churches were partially damaged. Six died, 200 others were injured and 7,000 were rendered homeless. The tremor caused damages to property estimated at P154 million.1990 Panay earthquake.
Four months later, in June 14, Panay was hit by another earthquake, killing eight and injuring 41 people. A number of bridges collapsed, commercial buildings and churches, mostly in Aklan and Antique, were also damaged. Landslides along the slopes of the Madja-as mountains were noted.1990 Baguio devastation.
The strongest and most destructive earthquake came in July 16, 1990, rocking the whole island of Luzon, and leaving behind a devastation that then Environment Secretary Fulgencio S. Factoran Jr. described as one that “is so far unequalled in deaths, property damage and psychological shock.” Damage caused by the earthquake was estimated at P12.2 billion, leaving close to 1,300 people dead and another 2,800 injured.
Over 25,000 houses were totally damaged and another 77,300 partially damaged, displacing close to 1,300,000 people in the process. The killer earthquake, which also triggered 13 major and eight minor landslides along the 40-kilometer Maharlika Highway, also left Baguio, where a number major structures collapsed, as one of the most devastated areas.
But the country has yet to see the extent of nature’s wrath. As the U.S. Geological Survey reported, the July 1990 killer earthquake, which it said was comparable to the great 1906 San Francisco, California earthquake, stirred the otherwise dormant Mt. Pinatubo from its 500-year slumber. “Shaking and squeezing the Earth’s crust beneath the volcano… this major earthquake caused a landslide, some local earthquakes, and a short-lived increase in steam emissions from a pre-existing geothermal area.”
The USGS further reported that by early 1991 thousands of small earthquakes occurred beneath Pinatubo, which also started to emit noxious sulphur dioxide gas while molten rock or magma started to rise toward the surface.1991 Pinatubo eruption.
And by June 12, 1991, as the country was celebrating Independence Day, Pinatubo ejected an ash cloud that rose 35 kilometers into the air, eerily resembling the deathly clouds formed by the atomic bombs dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima in World War II. USGS described the eruption as “Cataclysmic” and the “second largest volcanic eruption on Earth” in the 20th century.
Damage to property was estimated at P10.6 billion as 108,000 houses were damaged. About 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide were injected into the earth’s stratosphere, causing global temperatures to drop in the next two years.
But Pinatubo caused greater damage and suffering years after its spectacular eruption. The more than 5 cubic kilometres of volcanic ash and rock fragments it deposited on its slopes would be lossened by the annual monsoon rains. AS a result, huge, mudflows or lahar, moving as fast as 65 kilometers per hour, would bury villages, destroy bridges and everything else that stand along the way. These mudflows would reach as far as 80 kilometers. The destruction caused by the lahar in the lowlands was even more than the eruption itself.
Damage to property, according to data from the National Disaster Coordinating Council, ran to tens of billions of pesos, as the lives of millions of Filipinos continue to be disrupted in the next ten years.1993 Mayon eruption.
Two years after Pinatubo’s eruption, the ever-active Mayon Volcano in Bicol also displayed its temper, disrupting the lives of about 18,000 people. Damage was estimated at about P73 million.1994 Mindoro earthquake and tsunami.
The following year, Mindoro took brunt of nature’s wrath after it was hit by a 7.1 earthquake in November 15, 1994, leaving 78 people dead, 41 of whom, mostly elderly and children, were drowned by the tsunami that followed about 5 minutes after the tremor. Many houses along the coast were destroyed and a power barge which was originally anchored at the mouth of the river was pushed upstream for about two kilometers. The earthquake also caused a 35-kilometer rupture on the ground. Damage was estimated at about P515 million.1999 Cherry Hills landslide.
A total of 379 houses were destroyed and 125 families were displaced when the slope where Cherry Hills Subdivision in San Luis, Antipolo collapsed in the evening of August 2, 1999. Metro Manila was then battered by heavy rains for two consecutive days. PAGASA’s team which surveyed the area after the tragedy noted that Cherry Hills has an average slope of about 20%, steep enough to trigger landslides.
“The team was inclined to believe that an error in judgment was made by those who approved of such construction and development to take place in an area such as Cherry Hills,” PAGASA reported. Furthermore, PAGASA noted that several months before the disaster, signs that indicated ground movements were repeatedly observed, which if heeded, would have enabled the community to take precautionary measures and minimize the loss of lives and damages to property.July 10, 2000 Payatas tragedy.
Like Cherry Hills, this tragedy is man-made. More than 100 people died when the mountain of garbage in Payatas Quezon City, loosened by the torrents of rain, collapsed in July 10, 2000. The homes in the community that sprouted around the dumpsite were buried.2000 and 2001 Mayon Eruptions.
Mayon again displayed its fury for two consecutive years displacing 60,000 to 70,000 people and leaving behind damages estimated at about P90 million for the 2000 eruption and close to P50 million in 2001.2003 Panaon Island landslides.
This pre-Christmas landslides in the remote island in Southern Leyte left about 160 dead. Then environment secretary Gozun stressed that in this particular case, illegal logging was not the main cause. DENR took note of the fact that the island is traversed by some branches of the Philippine Fault. Rocks underneath are broken and fractured, geological conditions that allow water to seep in and once over-saturated, could trigger a landslide.
“The loss of forest cover in Panaon Island has been due largely to the legal cutting of trees as a result of the reclassification of the land from forest lands to alienable and disposable lands and the subsequent change in the use of the same land to agriculture, mostly to coconut plantation,” Gozun wrote immediately after government geologists surveyed the island in early 2004 not only to map areas that are considered geozards but also to help the victims identify suitable relocation sites.
“As early as 1928, much of this area had already been converted to alienable and disposable lands, long before the passage of the Forestry Code in 1975,” Gozun added. “Unfortunately, the coconut palm has shallower roots and is less efficient in holding the soil and water compared to a forest tree. In addition, the number of coconut palms per hectare in old coconut plantation is significantly much lower than the total number of forest trees per hectare in virgin forests.”2004 floods and landslides.
For three weeks in November and December 2004, Luzon was battered by four consecutive typhoons – Unding, Violeta, Winnie and Yoyong – triggering landslides and flash floods, causing extensive damage to crops, infrastructure and property. The government reported over 1,000 dead and another 1,000 injured and close to 600 missing.
In response, the United Nations issued a flash appeal to raise funds to meet the relief and emergency rehabilitation needs of those affected. The hardest hit were the Quezon municipalities located at the foothills of Sierra Madre range, namely General Nakar, Infanta and Real. Significant damages were also experienced in Aurora, Neuva Ecija, Mindoro Oriental, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Nueva Viscaya, Quirino, Isabela, Cagayan and Kalinga.
The government estimated at 38,000 houses were destroyed and 130,000 others were damaged. Close to 900,000 were displaced. The UN estimated the damage to crops, fisheries, livestock and infrastructure at $78 million or over P4 billion.
Recent international disasters. Geohazards do not have national boundaries. While nobody has made any scientific connections between the series of domestic disasters and those that transpired in other countries, it would be interesting to note that the December 26, 2003 earthquake that devasted the city of Bam in southern Iran occurred exactly a week after the Panaon landslide. The old Bam citadel – described as the biggest adobe structure of the world – was levelled to the ground. The exact death toll was difficult to determine but estimates ranged from a low oaf 26,271 to as high as 80,000 in addition to the tens of thousands who were reported missing.
And three weeks after the landslides at the foothills of Sierra Madre wrought havoc to three Quezon municipalities, the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake rocked the floor of the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 and triggered what is now referred as the Asian Tsunami. More than 283,000 people died, making it one of the deadliest disasters in modern history. Waves of up to 30 meters high slammed the shores of many countries – among them Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South India, and Thailand. It reached as far as South Africa, 8,000 kilometers away from the epicenter.February 2006 Guinsaugon Landslide.
Another devastating landslide hit Southern Leyte on February 17, where it had been raining continuously for about two weeks. Guinsaugon is about an hour away from Panaon Island, where six days earlier, close to 1,000 families had been forced to leave their homes as the rivers had become swollen and landslides in remote areas had been reported. For several days, rescuers, including teams sent by several foreign governments, were franctically searching for survivors. A week later, the rescuers gave the search for the school building where hundreds of children and their teachers were believed to be trapped by the mudslides.