‘Big one’ quake warning marks 50 years since Manila tower tragedy

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The collapsed Ruby Tower in 1968 and the logo of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

The chief seismologist of the Philippines has warned that not enough is being done to prepare for a possible ‘big one’ earthquake.

Renato Solidum, head of the the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), spoke out to mark the 50th anniversary of the 7.3-magnitude quake that unleashed death and destruction on Manila in 1968.

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While he recognised that the the country had updated its building codes, still not enough was being done to prepare for the worst. “The main issue is implementation and inspection of buildings and houses during construction,” he said.

Tomorrow (August 2), the country will remember how, exactly half a century ago, Filipinos were roused from their sleep by one of the strongest quakes in living memory.

In an effort to increase awareness of the need to prepare, Philvolcs has set up an exhibition and is holding a symposium at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.

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The 1968 quake claimed more than 260 lives, mainly due to the collapse of a six-story building in Manila. 

For this reason, the ‘Casiguran earthquake’, is often referred to as the Ruby Tower disaster, after the collapse of the apartment block claiming the lives of 268 people and injured 260 others.

“Ruby Tower collapsed from an earthquake with an epicentre more than 200 kilometres away,” said Mr Solidum. “It is a reminder for everyone that a strong ground shaking even if the source earthquake originated far away can cause significant damage to houses, buildings and infrastructure if these are poorly built.”

Many other buildings in Manila, including structures dating back to the American colonial era, were damaged in the quake.

According to Mr Solidum, the country has accomplished much in preparedness and resilience, having learned lessons from the disaster.

“Filipinos are now equipped with modern engineering technologies, seismic hazard information to serve as guide for design, and the appropriate codes to address the problems,” he said.

However, he added that the current building code needed to be updated.

“There is a proposed Philippine Building Act that can further improve our laws and regulations on buildings and other infrastructure, which, I believe, is being coordinated by the Department of Public Works and Highways,” he said.

He also backed stress tests for the quench-tempered and thermodynamically tested steel bars widely used in the country today, even for high-rise construction.

“What is important for us to understand is that earthquakes do not kill people but the collapse of houses and buildings does,” he said.

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