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In 2004, one of the deadliest tsunamis in world history hit the Indian Ocean.
It was a Sunday morning, right after Christmas Day, when a magnitude 9.1 underwater earthquake jolted the Sumatra Coast of Indonesia. The quake spawned tsunamis as high as 30 meters that swept through the shores of countries around the Indian Ocean, such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The huge waves killed over 200,000 people.

Banda Aceh, Indonesia, January 8, 2005 in / US Navy Seahawk

This devastating event proves that tsunamis must not be taken lightly. To create awareness about their risks and preventive measures, the United Nations declared November 5 as World Tsunami Awareness Day.
Tsunami is a Japanese word from “tsu” which means harbor and “nami” which translates to wave. According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), a tsunami is a series of waves commonly generated by under-the-sea earthquakes, whose heights can be greater than 5 meters or 16.4 feet.
Ao Nang, Krabi Province, Thailand, on December 26, 2004/ David Rydevik

Tsunamis may occur when an earthquake is shallow-seated and strong enough to displace parts of the seabed and disturb the mass of water over it. They are erroneously called tidal waves and sometimes mistakenly associated with storm surges. Natural signs of approaching tsunami include: a felt earthquake, an unusual sea level change (sudden sea water retreat or rise), and a rumbling sound of approaching waves.
Hat Rai Lay Beach, near Krabi in southern Thailand, December 26, 2004//AFP

In the Philippines, the 2004 Asian Tsunami greatly impacted the development of early warning signals in coastal communities. In 2012, the Cost-Effective Local Tsunami Early Warning System for Selected High-Risk Coastal Communities of the Philippines was first established in Albay and Pangasinan. The technology is basically made up of a platform with a 15-meter high pole. Two types of sensors are attached to this pole: one that notes the rise and fall of the sea level, and the PHIVOLCS-designed wet and dry sensors. The wet sensor detects post-earthquake receding water which may signal an impending tsunami, while the latter determines if water has already hit the pole.
Information generated by the system reaches local government units (LGU) in near real-time. In cases when an earthquake is strong enough to cause a tsunami, the LGU can sound off the warning siren to warn those living in coastal areas and give them enough time to prepare and flee their homes.
Apart from locally generated tsunamis, distant or far field tsunamis are also being monitored. This happens when an underwater earthquake occurs outside the Philippines or in the Pacific Ocean. Depending on the location, a distant tsunami has a longer lead time as compared to locally generated ones which can only take 2 to 20 minutes before the waves reach the shores of affected areas.
The Philippines is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area in the Pacific border where seismic activities occur, and is also surrounded by bodies of water. This makes us prone to tsunamis.

In December 2007, the Tsunami Hazard Maps were produced under the Department of Science and Technology- Grant-In-Aid Program (DOST-GIA) identifying the following areas that are most vulnerable to tsunamis:
Region I- Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan
Region II- Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela
Region III – Aurora, Bataan, Zambales
Region IV-A – Batangas, Cavite, Quezon
Region IV-B – Mindoro Island, Palawan
Region V – Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Sorsogon
Region VI – Aklan, Antique, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental
Region VII – Bohol, Negros Oriental, Siquijor
Region VIII – Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Leyte Island
Region IX – Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay
Region X – Camiguin, Lanao del Norte
Region XI – Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental
Region XII – Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat
Region XIII – Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur
ARMM – Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi
Because tsunamis can occur anytime of the day, international humanitarian organization Red Cross laid out safety measures before, during and after a tsunami.
– Discuss with your family what to do during a tsunami. This helps reduce fear, particularly among younger children.
– Check your workplace and your children’s schools and daycare centers to learn if they are in a tsunami hazard area or inundation zone. Learn about their evacuation plans, especially the designated spots where you can pick up your children.
– Plan evacuation routes from your home, school, workplace and other places you could be where tsunamis present a risk.
– If possible, try to pick evacuation areas 100 feet above sea level or 2 miles inland.
– If you cannot get that high or far, go as high or far as you can. You should be able to reach the highest ground possible on foot within 15 minutes.
– Practice your evacuation routes. Familiarity may save your life. Be able to follow your escape route at night and during inclement weather.
– Drop, cover, and hold on to protect yourself from the earthquake.
– When the shaking stops, gather members of your household and review your evacuation plan. A tsunami may be coming within minutes.
– Follow instructions issued by local authorities. Recommended evacuation routes may be different from the one you planned, or you may be advised to climb higher.
– Use a battery-powered radio to get updated emergency information.
– If you hear an official tsunami warning or detect signs of a tsunami, evacuate at once. A tsunami warning is issued when authorities are certain that a tsunami threat exists, and there may be little time to get out.
– Take your emergency preparedness kit. Having supplies will make you more comfortable during the evacuation.
– If you evacuate, take your animals with you. If it is not safe for you, it is not safe for them.
– Get to higher ground as far inland as possible. Watching a tsunami from the beach or cliffs could put you in grave danger.
– Avoid fallen power lines and stay away from buildings and bridges from which heavy objects might fall during an aftershock.
– Stay away until local officials tell you it is safe. A tsunami is a series of waves that may continue for hours. Do not assume that after one wave, the danger is over. The next wave may be larger than the first one.
– Let friends and family know you’re safe.
– If you have evacuated, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so.
– Continue listening to local news for updated information and instructions.
– If people around you are injured, practice CHECK, CALL, CARE. Check the scene to be sure it’s safe for you to approach; call for help; and if you are trained, provide first aid to those in need until emergency responders arrive.
Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia,2004 / AFP Image

Although earthquakes remain unpredictable, tsunamis can now be better foreseen through the use of technology. But this doesn’t give us an excuse to forego preparation. Remember that being prepared for disasters spells the difference between life and death.


Earthquake Survival quite literally begins in your own home. To ensure safety against tremors, it’s important to assess your living space to know what types of repair and reinforcement it needs to be quake-resilient.

You can begin your home inspection by examining two major factors: its content and structure.

Securing House Contents

It is important to identify the items that can possibly move, break or fall when a quake jolts your house.


Things to remember:

1. Secure hanging fixtures on the wall and ceiling.
2. Strap down hazardous electrical components.
3. To prevent tipping, heavy and tall objects such as appliances and cabinets must be anchored or braced using a flexible fastener like a nylon strap and a hook.
4. Place the fragile, large and weighty objects on the lower shelves of cabinets.
5. Lock the cabinets if possible.
6. Rearrange large things including framed pictures and mirrors away from seats and beds to prevent injury to occupants when ground shaking occurs.
7. Ensure elastic connector on gas stoves or appliances.
8. Check the accessibility of fire exits.
9. Know when and how to shut off utility lines.

Checking Home Integrity

According to the Metro Manila Earthquake Reduction Study (MMEIRS), 38.3% of residential buildings in Mega Manila might be damaged when the Valley Fault System moves. 339,800 of them will be partly disrupted while 168,300 will be heavily dented. Unlike other hazards, quakes can transpire anytime without warning, bringing secondary dangers such as fire, liquefaction and ground rupture among others.

This study led PHIVOLCS in coming up with a checklist that homeowners can use in assessing how their Concrete Hollow Block (CHB) house will fare in the event of a strong quake. This checklist is applicable to 1- and 2-storey houses, and a must for houses built before 1992 when the earthquake resistance standards were introduced to the Building Code.

house check phivolcs

Evaluation will be based from the tally of scores from the 12-point checklist:
0 – 7: Assessment is disturbing and needs consultation with experts as soon as possible.
8 – 10: House requires strengthening and expert consultation.
11 – 12: Seems safe but needs confirmation from experts.

PHIVOLCS recommends consulting with a licensed architect or civil engineer and a licensed contractor for official assessments. Aside from further renovation, checking your foundation for cracks must be done whenever there are interferences— natural or manmade— that happened in your area.

Building a Quake Resilient House

1. Have a licensed civil engineer or architect supervise the building of your house to ensure compliance to Building and Structural Codes.
2. Construct a regular-shaped house on a rock or stiff soil. Avoid building structures on muddy and reclaimed lands.
3. Use 6-inch thick concrete hollow blocks.
4. Vertical bars should be 100 mms. in diameter and must only have a 40-cm gap in between.
5. Horizontal bars must be 10 mms. thick and spaced between 3 layers of CHB.
6. Walls more than 3 meters wide have to be reinforced.
7. May need to add more foundation.
8. Use light materials on gable walls. Gable wall is the triangular area that connects the roof and the wall. Or better yet, build a flat roof house.

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Exactly four years ago, the people of Northeast Japan experienced the darkest and longest six minutes of their lives as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook their homes, setting off a chain of catastrophic events that killed 15,703 people and destroyed $300 billion worth of properties.

Let us remember the key events that unfolded on those fateful days, which began on March 11, 2011:

March 11, Friday, 2:46 PM One of the most powerful earthquakes shook Northeast Japan, prompting the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to issue a tsunami warning from Japan to the U.S. west coast. The tsunami alert included more than 50 countries, including the Philippines.
Just within an hour after the quake, a tsunami with an estimated height of 30 feet pounded over Japan’s coastal areas. Residential establishments, commercial buildings, and even cars and trains were washed away. Vital infrastructures, such as bridges, roads, and communication towers were also destroyed. Dead people were scattered on the streets.

8:15 PM The tsunami that ensued after the quake posed a threat to 54 nuclear power plants across Japan, urging the Japanese Government to declare an emergency situation for the power plants near Sendai, 180 miles from Tokyo.

10:29 PM The cooling system of the Fukisihima nuclear plant ceased operating, spreading fear of radiation leaks. Thousands of people living within the mile-and-a-half radius of the plant were ordered to evacuate.

March 12, Saturday, 2:06 AM The radiation level in the Fukishima nuclear plant began to rise. In less than an hour, the government confirmed a radiation leak. An explosion occurred in a building housing one of the plant’s reactors.

March 13, Sunday, Energy rationing had to be implemented due to the shutting down of nuclear power stations. Millions of residents were without power and water.

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March 14, Monday, A second explosion occurred at the Fukishima nuclear power plant.

In a report dated February 10, 2015, reported 15,890 confirmed deaths due to the earthquake and its related incidents.

In another report dated March 9, 2015, USA Today stated that radiation levels remain as much as 10 times above normal, resulting to nearly a quarter-million displaced Japanese. Hundreds of square miles forest, farmlands and settlement remain uninhabitable.

Recovery Efforts

The wise Confucius once said that “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”, a saying that’s synonymous to Japan’s current efforts.

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Photo credit:

Despite the slow pace of recovery, Japan continues to strive harder, seen with the construction of 70 new sea walls (90-meters wide, 15-meters high) that started in Kesennuma in the Miyagi Prefecture. This was authorized by the central government to protect the northeastern coastline.

From 40%, the operation of fish processing businesses in five (5) hardest-hit prefectures has doubled to 80%.

Considerable progress has also been reported in areas affected by radiation. Clean-up efforts have reduced the levels of radioactivity around the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Hospitals, nursery homes and some vital institutions are either finished or nearing completion according to Japanese Red Cross.

The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake reminded us that even a highly developed country such as Japan, with all its advanced technology, was still no match against nature’s fury.

Nevertheless, four years after the disaster, the Japanese people’s discipline and tenacity prevail as they continue to recover and rebuild their communities.

The northeast monsoon is still the dominant weather system inside the PH boundary.

Today, the islands of Batanes, Calayan and Babuyan will have partly cloudy skies with light precipitation. Meanwhile the rest of the country including Metro Manila will have favorable weather conditions, however PAGASA suggests continuous monitoring as isolated rains and thunderstorms are expected to happen within the day.

The state weather bureau is also monitoring the progress of El Nino. According to PAGASA Meteorologist Buddy Javier, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a reported weak El Nino. However, the full details regarding the matter will be discussed today at the conference to be held at PAGASA.

MTSAT Image from PAGASA.
MTSAT Image from PAGASA.

March 11, 2011: The Great East Japan Quake and Tsunami

Exactly four years ago, the people of Northeast Japan experienced the darkest and longest six minutes of their lives as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook their homes, setting off a chain of catastrophic events that killed 15,703 people and destroyed $300 billion worth of properties.

Let us remember the key events that unfolded on those fateful days, which began on March 11, 2011.