12 Mar2011

The Power of Nature…

by Marketman

Our prayers go out to all of those passed away or are affected by the massive earthquake that hit Japan yesterday. We watched on television the massive devastation of some coastal towns and the impact of tsunamis rippling across the Pacific ocean at a speed faster than jet planes. Mother nature is incredible, both in what she gives and what she chooses to take away. It is a humbling display of how tenuous or fleeting our existence on this planet really is.

On another note, I am old enough to vaguely remember the “Ruby Tower” collapse during an earthquake that struck Manila in 1968 where over 300 out of the 600 residents of the apartment building perished, many others injured and pulled out from under the debris. I thought of this because of the proliferation of highrise buildings in Manila over the past 10-15 years. I am sure building technologies have improved over the years, but I wouldn’t bet my lunch that all of those buildings would be able to withstand an earthquake of 8.9 magnitude. We used to live in a 15 story Makati apartment building designed and built in the 1970’s by that venerable international firm, Bechtel (and rated to withstand up to an 8.0 magnitude on the richter scale if I recall correctly), and we were sleeping one evening on the 10th floor when a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck in the 1990’s and our lamps flew off the side tables, and staff sleeping on bunk beds were likewise rudely thrown off. It was a serious jolt, and one of the reasons we moved to a rented home. So if a 7.5 magnitude earthquake were to strike here in Manila, it would be 10x as strong as that 6.5 one, yes read 10x as strong, and if it lasted for two minutes, I would guess that several dozen buildings in Manila would be irreparably damaged. And we haven’t had a really strong earthquake in say 30+ years… That’s a pretty compelling reason to live closer to the ground, in my opinion.

NOTE: In light of the Nuclear Power Plant issues in Japan as a result of the recent earthquake, and for those interested, it is worth revisiting my two -year old post on the possible/potential re-commissioning of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, HERE and reading the 150+ comments it generated, including those of the congressman who strongly supported the bill, as well as folks who strongly opposed it. I had a follow-up post HERE.



  1. kikas_head says:

    One thing the tragedy in Japan brought to our attention is a reminder to make sure we have an earthquake kit. We always had one in San Francisco (which admittedly gets more earthquakes than here) but have never really set one up with canned goods, drinking water, can opener,flashlight, candles, waterproof matches first aid kit, etc.

    The images from Japan are heartbreaking.

    Mar 12, 2011 | 7:24 pm


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  3. wayne says:

    i’ve always wondered about the current “hype” of manila highrise buidlings, considering that the city is in danger to be struck by an earthquake, sooner or later…

    i wouldn’t bet my lunch on these buildings either… besides, i find them an architectual catastrophe…

    Mar 12, 2011 | 7:44 pm

  4. charlie says:

    Mr MM you bring back some of my memories on Ruby Tower. I was a young Boys Scout who helped on the rescue effort during that time. I remember assisting in pulling a young kid using our bare hands; we did not have any power tools then.

    Mar 12, 2011 | 8:32 pm

  5. lee says:

    I am relieved that my relatives in Tokyo are safe. They are scared and I feel for them. I just hope nothing of this intensity reach us knowing that majority of our infrastructure were built without considering earthquakes and other acts of nature.

    Mar 12, 2011 | 9:16 pm

  6. millet says:

    and we don’t have firefighting helicopters (i don’t know what they’re called, basta “flying firetrucks”). in case of serious fires in these skyscrapers, i don’t think the internal sprinkler systems will suffice.

    Mar 12, 2011 | 9:34 pm

  7. chrisb says:

    MM, here’s an amazing and scary video of buildings swaying during the earthquake: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhJzdtzl6KY&feature=player_embedded#at=25

    and an even scarier one of the tsunami coming in, shot at ground level: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjorLr5MUvc&feature=player_embedded#at=12

    Mar 12, 2011 | 9:45 pm

  8. jo says:

    same here MM, im deeply saddened. really, it’s painful others have to suffer too much pain & fear when they are taken away. sigh…

    Mar 12, 2011 | 10:07 pm

  9. Gerry says:

    The Baguio quake in ’91 measured 7.7. It destroyed the iconic Terraces Hotel, whose design apparently made it vulnerable to such events. I just hope that today’s engineers and architects have learned from the mistakes of the past.

    Mar 12, 2011 | 10:45 pm

  10. Footloose says:

    Emergency preparedness and a well-designed and strictly enforced building code spelled the difference between the seemingly slight aftermath of the earthquake in Chile and the total devastation in Haiti from which Haitians are still struggling to emerge from. And oddly enough, unpreparedness and cavalier attitude towards the forces of nature (particularly Global warming) is not necessarily limited to third world nations as witness the tragedy of New Orleans.

    But I say that an abjectly defeated country that recovered from two atomic bombs to become one of the industrial giants of the modern world can handle any scary doomsday set-back which brings me back, of course, to your post about some bright lights in Congress considering re-arming an abandoned nuclear facility in Bataan. What ever happened to that?

    Mar 13, 2011 | 2:05 am

  11. scramoodles says:

    Makes me want to search for the evacuation kit endorsed by the US Homeland security and emulate Sheldon of Big Bang Theory.

    Mar 13, 2011 | 3:20 am

  12. scramoodles says:

    I agree with footloose. It is construction and building codes that should be strictly followed and reinforced to make buildings and cities safer. I do not doubt we have great engineers and architects. But we also have corrupt officials who turn a blind eye in these matters and capitalists who cut corners and scrimp on cement and steel.

    I heard over the radio that JICA once did a study in 2004 about the safety of the buildings here in Metro Manila. Out of the hundred thousands of buildings during that time, roughly 300,000 if memory serves me right, about 30% or 35% stand a good chance of toppling over when a big earthquake hits us.

    I don’t want to be a statistic. Let us comply with the building codes and revise them if necessary. Consider this a wake-up call to all the government officials, lobbyists, and legislators. And while we may not all live in condominiums, the majority of the urban folk do work in office buildings. Either way, you’re screwing us both ways.

    Mar 13, 2011 | 3:33 am

  13. fried-neurons says:

    MM, each one whole point increase in magnitude is actually over 31x as strong, because it’s not just straight logarithmic progression. :)

    The simple formula to compare relative strengths of earthquakes:

    10 ^ (3/2) ^ (M2 – M1), where M2 is the bigger magnitude and M1 is the smaller one.

    /end geek comment of the day.

    Mar 13, 2011 | 4:16 am

  14. Marketman says:

    fried neurons, thanks for that, I learned yet another thing today… but I have to agree, it’s seriously geeky…hahaha. scramoodles, it always freaks me out when I see even townhouses now made with cement beams but styrofoam based walls…I am not an engineer, and these may not impinge on the safety of a building, but you have to wonder! As for the taller buildings, I would hazard a guess that many of them can’t withstand a really serious quake, and we don’t seem prepared to handle such a disaster if our response to Ondoy was any indication. Footloose, my thoughts exactly on the nuclear plant… another “I told you so” kind of post. I wonder where the supporters of THAT idea are now. The nuclear plant in Bataan is near a fault, and I can only imagine how ill prepared we would be to handle a serious emergency in the aftermath of a quake. If you recall, there was a ridiculous situation a few years back where the whole island of Luzon lost power because a “bunch of large jellyfish got sucked up into the water cooling system of a power generating plant”… if that happened at the nuclear plant, we would have a new species of glowing radioactive jellyfish in the South China Sea!

    Mar 13, 2011 | 5:14 am

  15. jazz says:

    I hope that those politicians who are pushing for nuclear power will have a change of mind after what happened to Japan recently. Use solar power, we have so much sunlight the whole year round.

    Mar 13, 2011 | 9:44 am

  16. mbw says:

    i have just got back from a trip to Europe and on our way back to Manila, we would pass by the construction sites along the newest airport (PIATCO to my knowledge…sorry tagabundok ako :-)) and boy! I know flimsy and sloppy when I see one…after the “First World” infrastructures. I was thinking to myself “am I being too snobbish or finicky after seeing much European design and technology?” Then came the Tokyo/Sendai earthquake/tsunami…

    I came to the conclusion then that we have to really be very prayerful when in Manila.

    Mar 13, 2011 | 10:06 am

  17. RobKSA says:

    waaaaaahhhhhhh, you’re scaring me MM. we live on a small flat so nothing but up. so our house has 4 floors and i noticed during construction on the top floors that they are made of styrofoam based walls. i questioned the contractor and he said that’s the norm right now because that is even safer. besides he said that our post beams and crossbeams are way over the spec so we should be alright. but i’m sure it won’t withstand an 8.0 earthquake as most buildings in manila. maybe time to renuvate the laguna house and retire there instead. my prayers to all that were affected by this catastrophe.

    Mar 13, 2011 | 12:17 pm

  18. Mimi says:

    Been glued to watching Japan news…the earthquake has been re-classified to 9.0! And studies say Japan has shifted 2.4 meters from before the quake and the earth’s axis has also shifted by 25 cm. Makes me have a better understanding about Pangea and today’s geography. Please, Lord, give Japan a break! Poor people, there are now 6 nuclear reactors on the danger list!

    Mar 13, 2011 | 3:29 pm

  19. j. says:

    Hi MM,

    Just to let you know, Tokyo is relatively unscathed (if you could call it that!). My family and I are communicating through skype and facebook, as the only thing working with certainty is the internet and the archaic landlines. One thing that I heard American broadcasters kept on relaying with certainty and amazement, is how the well prepared the Japanese are. I am hoping that they are also prepared for the nuclear onslaught. The Japanese goverment often downplays the criticallity of disasters in Japan, but as a whole they are even more prepared than many European and Asian countries, and definitely much more intune with the needs of their population than the American government is (think Katrina response). If this ever happens in California, it will be Loma Prieta all over again! All I can do is pray and see if I can donate my time, money, and or whatever else to help…


    Mar 13, 2011 | 6:20 pm

  20. Gerry says:

    I am a supporter of nuclear power since it really is much better than the other baseload alternatives available to us which are natural gas and coal. Those Japanese nukes were built in the ’70s and relied on electricity to pump water through the core to cool it down. The problem in this situation is that power supply from the grid vanished, so they had to rely on their generators, which were damaged by the tsunami. I guess they did not plan on this happening, thus the possibility of meltdown. The earthquake and tsunami did not directly cause the meltdown, it is the lack of power to run the pumps that cool the reactor that is the problem.

    Newer plants rely on passive cooling systems, wherein no pumps are necessary to cool down the reactor in case of emergencies. The system simply does it on it’s own even without human intervention. Please do keep an open mind with regards to nuclear power despite what’s happening in Japan. Bill Gates has invested in a start-up called TerraPower that promises safer and more efficient nukes. I do not however support activating the BNPP.

    Mar 13, 2011 | 7:33 pm

  21. Doddie Householder says:

    For MM readers:

    If you want to help in the Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster, I have a Swedish friend who is married to a Japanese living in the Tochigi District. It is nearer to Sendai than Tokyo is. They have nothing to buy in the groceries, convenience stores and gasoline stations. If any good Samaritan would like to send a care package (it has to be express priority mail – the post office is still running and will deliver this first), please send the following:
    AA batteries (for flashlights/radio)
    noodle packs
    Seaweed wrapper (Nori) – contains iodine to counteract any radiation exposure
    Wet Ones/Wet Tissue
    I have her addy and will send to those who ask for it. My friend Anna is a blogger and you can google her blog – Budget Trouble in Japan.
    Here is a link to one of her blogs – http://www.tochigidailyphoto.com/2011/03/two-days-after-tohoku-earthquake.html?spref=tw
    She has promised to share any supplies with her neighbors. I am sending an emergency box of the stuff she asked today. I do hope somebody would do the same. It will be quite some time until things normalizes in their wrecked neighborhood.


    Mar 14, 2011 | 7:07 am

  22. ami says:

    Found this article in the Inquirer which said that those who supported the Bataan Nuclear Plant are now backing out or having second thoughts.



    Mar 14, 2011 | 10:29 am

  23. j. says:


    If you could kindly forward the address, that would be wonderful. My family in Tokyo do not need the supplies, but I am ready, willing, and able to send out the care package. It is much more chaotic in the areas surrounding Sendai…


    Mar 14, 2011 | 2:07 pm

  24. ami says:

    Mar 14, 2011 | 2:49 pm

  25. Mimi says:

    Last Christmas I sent a box to a friend in Japan it took over 2 weeks and she got it after Christmas, so I can imagine with the chaos there it may take longer. Also, there have been reports that commercial mail in Japan is not really up to speed right now. A friend suggested to just send cash via the Japanese Embassy, so maybe that is the best option rather than a care package.

    Mar 14, 2011 | 10:10 pm

  26. Elsie says:

    To have a little bit of understanding on how a nuclear reactor and cooling system works…
    Click on various parts of the reactor to see details.
    I am not saying though that I support the BNPP.

    Mar 15, 2011 | 5:50 am

  27. Ley says:

    I once had a meeting with the lawyer of the owner of the tallest building in this city. I asked him if the tower, touted to be the tallest hotel tower in the Philippines, can withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. He simply said “I don’t think there’s a building here which can withstand an earthquake of that magnitude.” Yikes!

    Mar 15, 2011 | 9:12 am


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