Tremors of Terror: Philippines earthquake Rattles Region and Raises Readiness Reminders for Japan
December 5, 2023
A powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Philippines early Saturday morning, triggering a tsunami alert for Japan’s eastern coast. The earthquake hit near the town of Masbate in the central Philippines at around 8:03 am local time on December 2nd, 2023 according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). The quake was very shallow, occurring only around 10 kilometers below the seafloor. Shallow quakes tend to be more destructive as the energy is not dispersed over a large area.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) issued a tsunami warning for coastal communities in the province of Masbate and nearby areas following the earthquake. They warned that a destructive tsunami was possible within 300 kilometers of the epicenter. Japan’s Meteorological Agency also issued tsunami advisories for parts of its eastern coast. Waves as high as 1 meter were forecast to hit the prefectures of Shimane, Tottori and parts of Hiroshima. No major tsunami impacts were reported in either country however as wave heights remained below warning levels.
Damage and Casualties in the Philippines earthquake
In the Philippines, the earthquake caused damage to buildings and infrastructure in Masbate province. Walls and roofs of older structures collapsed during the violent shaking. Power and communications were also disrupted in some areas. At least three people were reported injured when hit by falling debris. Emergency teams were dispatched to assess damage and begin relief efforts. The provincial government declared a state of calamity to access emergency funds for recovery.
Aftershocks continued to rattle the region in the days following as crews worked to clear rubble and make areas safe.
Scientists Monitor Activity
Seismologists continue to closely monitor the region for further activity. The USGS noted this earthquake was part of the ongoing activity of the Philippine Sea Plate pushing under the Sunda Plate. This subduction zone has produced some of the largest quakes in recorded history, including a 8.3 magnitude quake in 1976. Experts warn the latest quake has the potential to trigger more seismic events as stress is relieved and redistributed along nearby faults. Aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater are still possible.
More Damage from Aftershocks
Sadly, further damage was caused in Masbate by strong aftershocks in the following days. On December 3rd, a magnitude 5.5 aftershock brought down more structures already weakened by the initial quake.There was one fatality and several injuries.Emergency crews were kept busy providing first aid and clearing debris. The provincial capitol building suffered cracks in its walls and had to be evacuated as a precaution. Power outages also affected more areas. Relief goods continued to pour into the hardest hit communities to aid those left homeless.
Lessons from Past Disasters
The Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters, being located in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Past events like Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed over 6,000 people, have highlighted the need for preparedness. Since then, the country has worked to strengthen building codes, develop early warning systems and educate citizens on disaster response. These efforts likely helped minimize the human impact of the recent quake, though infrastructure in older structures remains vulnerable. Ongoing monitoring and preparation will be crucial to saving lives if a large quake does strike along the subduction zone in the future.
Continued Relief Efforts in Masbate
Over a week after the initial earthquake, relief and recovery efforts continue in Masbate province. Temporary shelters have been set up for the estimated 300 families left homeless. Government aid has provided food, water and basic supplies. Medical teams are on hand to treat any injuries from the aftershocks or from clearing rubble. Engineers are assessing the structural safety of buildings to determine if any need major repairs or demolition. The local government is working with national agencies to develop long term rebuilding plans. International organizations have also provided support to assist the vulnerable affected by this disaster.
Lessons for Japan’s Earthquake Preparedness
While Japan avoided a direct hit from a tsunami this time, the event serves as a reminder of the seismic risks the country faces being situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Japan experiences around 1,500 earthquakes per year, though most are too small to be felt. The nation has highly advanced earthquake early warning systems that helped minimize loss of life from the 2011 Tohoku quake and tsunami that killed over 15,000. However, experts say more can still be done to prepare vulnerable coastal communities and upgrade critical infrastructure for mega-quakes. Ongoing public education campaigns are also needed to ensure citizens know how to respond appropriately if an alert is issued. The Philippines quake is the latest example of the importance of constant preparedness for such disasters that can strike with little warning.
The 7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the Philippines on December 2nd caused damage and loss of life in Masbate province. It also triggered tsunami warnings for Japan, though no major waves eventuated. Relief efforts continue over a week later as the region recovers from the quake and powerful aftershocks. While the human impact was minimized due to disaster preparedness, the event highlights the ongoing seismic risks for both nations from the active subduction zone they sit upon. Constant monitoring and readiness will be crucial to saving lives should a large quake occur in the future along the Philippine Sea Plate boundary.