Quake sparks panic, traffic

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012


A MAGNITUDE 6.9 earthquake, the strongest recorded in Central Visayas in 90 years, struck Tayasan in Negros Oriental at 11:49 a.m. yesterday.

No major damage and no deaths were reported in Cebu Province. But the official report listed at least seven killed—two of them girls under 12 years old—in neighboring Negros Oriental province.

At least 29 were killed by landslides while 10 others were crushed by buildings in Guihulngan in Negros, the Agence France Presse news agency quoted military Col. Colonel Francisco Patrimonio as saying.

That report did not yet make it to the official updates of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Monitoring Council (NDRRMC) as of press time.

Local government officials ordered buildings checked, especially in schools, today to assess how much damage the quake caused.

“That’s the strongest we’ve had so far in Cebu,” said Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, whose regular press conference the earthquake interrupted.

“There’s more compelling reason now to work together… We can’t be too complacent when it comes to matters concerning the environment… we should accelerate efforts to fix drainage systems and find ways how we can relocate people in the coastal areas. We also have to remove structures under bridges,” he continued.

The quake also cut short a meeting between Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos in Capitol, who calmly walked outside the building, where they were joined by many employees.

Initial reports mentioned landslides in Alegria, as well as cracked belfry towers in Badian, Malabuyoc and Boljoon.

“Our disaster risk management council is very active,” the governor said.

Panic

Schools and offices all over Metro Cebu gave students and employees the rest of the afternoon off. A common cause of anxiety: the lack of information among parents as to how their children were doing.

As a precaution, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) issued a tsunami alert bulletin at 12:05 p.m. It warned coastal residents about “minor sea level changes” but gave no order to evacuate.

At 2:30 p.m., the tsunami alert was cancelled.

Around that time, however, crowds began running from downtown Cebu City to higher areas, including the vicinity of the Provincial Capitol.

In Moalboal town, where crowds also went to higher ground, a multicab hit a seven-year-old boy, John Michael Juego, in the grounds of Barangay Buho Elementary School, said PO1 Melvin Delica.

The driver, identified only as Rodel, rushed the first grader to the public hospital of the next town, Badian, and the child was declared in stable condition as of 9:30 last night.

In Cebu City, many reported hearing a man on a motorcycle telling people he had seen seawater reaching Colon St. But the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was no danger of a widespread destructive tsunami.

Reassurance

To prevent more panic, teams from the Apas Emergency Response Team, 78th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army and the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 went around to correct false reports about the tsunami.

The Coast Guard Station in Cebu allowed vessels to sail after Phivolcs lifted the tsunami alert.

The strongest tremors, at intensity 7, shook Dumaguete City and Villahermoso in Negros Oriental. It was intensity 5 in most of Cebu, except for the southern town of Argao, where it was intensity 6.

Tremors were reported in 37 areas, including Northern Mindanao and Legaspi City in Albay.

Nine-year-old Bernadette Raydan of Tayasan, Negros Oriental died after a concrete wall fell on her while she was in school.

Anabel Estrabella, 11, of Jimalalud, Negros Oriental died when part of a chapel wall collapsed and pinned her.

Department of Education (DepEd) 7 Director Recaredo Borgonia said no other casualty, apart from Raydan, was reported to him yesterday.

He ordered school heads to have their buildings assessed by engineers, to make sure these are safe.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 7 convened and put its Quick Response Team on red alert.

“We are keeping in touch with our local social welfare teams in Negros Oriental,” said DSWD 7 information officer Jaybee Binghay.

Debriefing

“We have a team of (stress) debriefers, too, on standby,” she said.

Senior Supt. Patrocinio Comendador, the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) director,
said in a text message that there were no reported casualties in the province.

Comendador said he received reports that cracks were seen on the bridge of Mangoto, Pinamungahan town. But vehicles were able to pass.

Cracks were also noticed on a belfry in Dumanjug town and a private school in Sogod
town.

After the earthquake, the sea levels in the Southwestern Cebu towns of Moalboal, Badian, Pinamungahan, Aloguinsan, Barili, Ronda, and Alegria subsided, and then rose again after a few seconds, police said.

In Balamban town, PO1 Rodney Cambarijan said some residents along the coastline were evacuated, as a precaution.

The aftershocks recorded and posted on the Phivolcs website started 14 minutes after the initial temblor. The first was at 4.8 magnitude, followed by a 5.3 quake at 12:20 p.m.

Strongest

Based on Phivolcs’ earthquake bulletins, yesterday’s quake was the strongest this year.

A 5.9 magnitude quake was recorded near Eastern Samar on Jan. 17, while another 5.9 temblor was recorded on Feb. 4 near San Policarpio, also in Eastern Samar.

In an interview last Jan. 27, Robinson Jorgio, seismic observer of the Phivolcs Seismic Monitoring Station in Lapu-Lapu City, told Sun.Star Cebu that based on historical data, Cebu Province has only felt mild quakes.

He said the agency has not recorded a significantly strong quake, usually magnitude 4 upwards.

There was a 6.5 magnitude quake recorded in 1905 in Negros Occidental, near Bantayan Island and Silay areas.

In 1922, between Bohol and Cebu, a 6.3 magnitude quake occurred, which affected Negros and Leyte provinces.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) 7 spokesperson Dr. Eddie Llamedo said a team will check on the effects of the earthquake.

“MGB 7 Director Loreto Alburo is constituting a team of geologists to conduct a field investigation on the reported earthquake or rain-induced landslide incidents in different parts of Central Visayas,” said Llamedo.

Shortly after yesterday’s quake, Cebu City’s Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CCLDRRMC) received reports that cracks were found on the walls of several buildings in the city, including the University of San Jose-Recoletos Basak campus, the Ludo-Luym building, and some public schools and barangay halls.

Half-day

City employees were allowed to go home following an aftershock some 15 minutes after the earthquake struck.

On the ground floor, meetings in the mayor’s office and the mayor’s conference room were cut short as visitors ran outside the building.

Except for Mayor Rama and some news reporters, everybody stayed on the road until the tremors stopped.

Rama instructed the city engineer to inspect buildings in the city, particularly school buildings in landslide-prone areas that were earlier declared as high-risk. He also asked barangay captains of coastal villages to look out for any abnormal rise in water levels.

By 2 p.m., the mayor ordered policemen to roam the city’s streets and try to appease the public amid the hysteria caused by false information on a tsunami downtown.

“In some cases, earthquakes result in a tsunami but we have been informed in the past that in Cebu, chances of a tsunami is nil because we are surrounded by islands. The people should not have panicked but of course, we cannot blame them because we have seen what happened to Japan after a strong earthquake,” Rama said in a phone interview.

He allowed city employees to go home past 1 p.m., citing the possibility of more aftershocks.

Swinging

“Grabe kakusog sa uyog sa taas, mura gud mi ug giduyan. Paghuman, naglumbaanay dayon ang mga tawo ug pangadyi unya nanganaog (The earthquake was so strong it felt like we were on a swing. Everyone just started praying and left the office right after),” said Assistant City Administrator Juvy Morelos, who holds office on the eighth floor of the
City Hall executive building.

Today, the 30 families occupying Gotiaoco Building across City Hall will be asked to vacate the building.

The City has been asking the occupants to leave, since the building’s structural integrity has been compromised and may collapse during an earthquake, said CCLDRRMC executive director Alvin Santillana said.

Talisay City Mayor Socrates Fernandez and Vice Mayor Alan Bucao ordered their subordinates to go home early.

“Wala mi trabaho karong hapon kay magsige man mi ug gawas tungod sa aftershocks, niya sulod napud. Mao gisuspend and work namo today (We suspended work in the afternoon because we had to keep leaving the building during the aftershocks),” said Talisay City Administrator Richel Bacaltos in his text message to Sun.Star Cebu.

Danao City Mayor Ramon “Boy” Durano Jr. also suspended work in the afternoon.

Inspection

The Cebu Institute of Technology (CIT) University suspended its classes in all levels shortly after the earthquake.

“Suspension of classes and office work in all levels will be up to tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. Classes and office work resume in the afternoon tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 7”, read the text message sent to Sun.Star Cebu by CIT Dean Arsenio
Pacaña.

Pacaña said that CIT-U engineers will check on their physical structures.

The Mandaue City Government immediately convened its disaster council to assess the damage.

In a press conference yesterday, Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes said he also ordered Mandaue City Schools Superintendent Virginia Zapanta to immediately suspend classes in all public schools.

He asked the Office of the Building Official (OBO) to assess all large and medium buildings in the city to determine if cracks were created.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza advised both locals and tourists in the city to stay away from coastal areas, while the tsunami alert was in effect.

Radaza also ordered inspections on some buildings in the city, to determine if there is structural damage.

Shocked

Third-year student John Lloyd said they were having classes in the Talisay National High School yesterday morning when the tremors stunned them.

“Wala mi kahibaw sa among buhaton, natulala mi tanan (We did not know what to do, we were all shocked),” he said.

Around 2:30 p.m., crowds were seen running on Osmeña Blvd., apparently seeking higher ground. Many filled the pedestrian overpasses—a sight usually seen only during parades.

Parents carrying or pulling their children, joined by uniformed college students and office workers, poured out into the streets.

Vehicles filled the lane heading uptown.

At the Palace of Justice, court proceedings were suspended in the afternoon. One court employee was reportedly hurt during the rush to leave the building.

Handcuffed inmates who attended the hearing of their cases were herded outside, for their own safety. (AFP)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 07, 2012.

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