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Earth shattering

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The death toll of the massive early morning earthquake which struck south-eastern Turkey, near the Syrian border, has already surpassed 15,000 as of this writing.

This was a particularly deadly earthquake because aside from its intensity, which registered at 7.8. Adding to the death toll was the timing of the incident, which was around 1am, when people were inside their homes, fast asleep. And then, it was followed by aftershocks that were extremely powerful, including one that was registered at 7.5 at around 10am. That follow up tremor, which is one even a supposedly earthquake-ready Metro Manila might not survive, would’ve toppled even more already damaged structures.

Another factor was it happened in a region that had not experienced a major earthquake for more than 200 years, so the level of preparedness and sturdiness of buildings was lesser than areas that are used to dealing with tremors.

Making matters worse for those who initially survived the quake but were trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings was the freezing temperatures in the area, which lowers the chances of survival further, especially if rescue teams and equipment are not readily available.

In Syria, it is even more difficult as affected areas are in a war zone, where there is limited access to rescue and medical personnel and equipment.

The current estimated death toll makes it the largest for an earthquake in more than a decade, and given the difficult conditions, it is still expected to rise.

One of the most heartbreaking photos from this earthquake is that of a devastated Mesut Hancer, clad in an orange safety jacket, probably put on him by a rescuer, holding on to the lifeless hand of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak, which was the only part of her sticking out of the rubble that used to be their home.

The Philippines has sent an 85-man team to help in rescue and relief operations. Let us wish them the best of luck as they try to help during this very difficult time for the people of Turkey. It’s not much, but it’s the thought that counts and they need all the help they can get.

The devastating earthquake news coming out of Turkey and Syria makes me wonder if we are anywhere near ready for a big one. Shouldn’t we be, since our country is right smack in the middle of the Ring of Fire? Are our buildings and building inspectors up to code? For that matter, is our building code up to code? Do our towns and cities have the specialized rescue equipment and personnel that hope to never use? We know that one such team exists, because we were able to send them to Turkey, but does each province or island group of the archipelago, at the very least, have one that can be quickly deployed to affected areas?

Hopefully whatever our earthquake-specialized rescue and recovery teams are supposed to have has not yet been lost to corruption or neglect. It would be a shame to see what happened to Vladimir Putin’s army, where he didn’t know corruption and neglect had rendered practically useless, until he decided use it to illegally invade Ukraine; happen to whatever rescue equipment and abilities we have acquired and put aside.

If you come to think of it, we are already fortunate our country is situated in the Ring of Fire, which means that we should naturally be more prepared than Turkey’s Kharamanmaras region, which totally did not expect a massive earthquake at all. Aside from that, we do not have to deal with the freezing temperatures that is grimly silencing many of the voices that had been crying for help and hoping for rescue from underneath the piles of rubble.

Filipinos know from experience that there is absolutely nothing we can do when Mother Earth decides to go on a rampage. Super-duper typhoons, we can at least brace ourselves when we see them coming. After it hits, we pick up the pieces, repair the damage, and move on. When it comes to earthquakes, it’s either a country is prepared like Japan, where government and its people have already done everything they can do to prepare for big ones because they experience it a lot, or it could be like Turkey, totally unprepared.

It is difficult to tell where the Philippines stands when it comes to readiness for massive earthquakes. Aside from the announced earthquake drills every now and then, and the 85-man team we sent to Turkey, I really don’t know how we’d fare if we faced a big one. Hopefully the people who were supposed to have prepared our national and local government units for it have done a good job doing so and their efforts have been turned over to the right people who also know what they are doing and where all the important stuff is.

For the meantime, all we can do is pray for those affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.*

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