SEARCH and rescue operations will continue at the Pampanga supermarket that collapse during Monday’s earthquake, even though there are no signs of life said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Chuzon Supermarket in Porac, Pampanga collapsed during the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that hit on April 22.

“As agreed during the briefing held on April 25 at the barangay hall of Barangay Cangatba, Porac, Pampanga, responders will continue to be on search, rescue and retrieval (SRR) mode which is still expected to last from two days to a week to complete,” said NDRRMC in a statement.

The NDRRMC recorded 18 casualties, 282 injured, and seven persons missing in Region III in the wake of the earthquake.

The agency said that there were 1,230 damaged houses in the provinces of Bataan and Pampanga and 138 damaged structures in the rest of Region III (comprised of the provinces of Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales) and the National Capital Region (NCR). The NDRRMC said that there was an estimated P505 million worth of damage to schools, roads, and bridges in Regions I, III, Calabarzon, and the NCR.

The Office of Civil Defense, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and local government units have provided P1.1 million worth of assistance for response operations.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said in a hearing at Congress that repair and retrofitting of infrastructure has been a priority of the agency in preparation for “The Big One,” referring to the major earthquake that is expected to hit Metro Manila.

“Priority po sa Public Works ’yang (the priority of Public Works is the) rehabilitation, replacement, retrofitting ng mga (of) bridges, particularly in NCR. Of course, this is part of our preparation in anticipation of the big earthquake, but I hope it will not happen in our lifetime. Also, we have inspected public school buildings and we are retrofitting public buildings,” said DPWH Undersecretary for Planning Maria Catalina E. Cabral on Friday.

She added that the DPWH has an allotted budget of P5 billion for the retrofitting of bridges in the country: “Meron din po kaming (We also have a) budget for replacement of the bridges that really needs to be replaced. Kasi yung (because) retrofitting is only to make sure it addresses international seismic standards, so ibig sabihin okay naman yung tulay (it means that the bridges are okay) but we have to upgrade the standards.”

Further, DPWH Assistant Secretary Eugenio R. Pipo Jr. said that the agency has already inspected and assessed around 3,000 public buildings in the Metro Manila.

“We have formed teams and evaluated these buildings. The evaluation criteria that we used is the American version which is [that of] the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)…. when we did the assessment, we have to classify it based on vulnerability of a certain building, if it is for condemnation, [which] we have identified two, and then we identified buildings need to be retrofitted,” said Mr. Pipo.

Mr. Pipo noted that the two buildings that were identified as condemned were in Tondo, Manila and Parañaque City.

“If [a building] needs to be retrofitted, we instruct the owner or the agency that owns the building to hire the services of these engineering firms to conduct the necessary technical evaluations and the rehabilitation to be done,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported a series of earthquakes in Surigao del Norte on Friday, with the strongest tremor, with a magnitude of 5.5, located 70 kilometers southeast of the municipality of General Luna. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras