Life On the Fault Line

Recently, PHILVOLCS (the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology) released its Valley Fault System Atlas, mapping the West and East Valley Fault Lines that cut directly through Metro Manila. After two years of research, residents of the Metro and nearby provinces can now see exactly how close their homes are to fault lines that have the capacity to unleash earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 7.9.

Considering that the Atlas arrived hot on the heels of the massively destructive Nepal quake, which measured somewhere between 7.9 and 8.1, the new publication has made people understandably skittish. The fact that there have been no major quakes along the Valley Fault System in several hundred years has been taken by many as a sign that we’re past due for The Big One, though I suppose you could just as soon argue that it means the chances of The Big One happening anytime soon are pretty low.

Of course, just releasing an atlas that makes the risks so disturbingly visual doesn’t actually increase the risk to anyone. My house in Muntinlupa City is really, really close to the West Valley Fault, the potentially more dangerous of the two. I really, really love my neighbourhood, and the idea that it could be reduced to a smouldering heap of rubble is pretty upsetting to me. The thought of seeing my beloved dogs buried under piles of rubble from collapsing houses next door, both of which tower over my modest and somewhat rickety one-story house, is not a very nice thought at all. For a while, I thought about moving somewhere safer after my current house lease ends, even if it meant tearing myself away from a place that has truly become my home.

But risk is a funny business in the Philippines. In my home country, wherever that is (somewhere in North America or Europe, I think), really big natural disasters are a rare occurrence. On some years we may see floods that ruin people’s basements (which is probably one reason nobody has basements in the Philippines), but when it happens, it’s considered something extraordinary. In the Philippines the only uncertainty facing us each year is: regular typhoons or supertyphoons? When each year pretty much guarantees flooded streets and houses as a bare minimum, with the risks escalating from there all the way up to death, you have to look at risk differently. No wonder bahala na is such a big hit here.

So, if the Big One does come, I only pray that my fellow Manileños and I will come out lucky and unscathed. And if that’s too much for ask for, I will at least hope for a quick and relatively painless death for me, preferably under something large and heavy enough to squish me without too much wasted time. Not that I’m hoping for anything more than many more happy days in Manila – it’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, and it’s finally stopped being so damn humid here. Plus, my dogs are looking really comfortable sleeping on the floor next to me. I’m pretty sure they’re quite happy in their total ignorance of seismology, and maybe I could learn a thing or two from them.

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