At first, we thought we were just woozy until the earth shook so violently and we realized it was more than just a dizzy spell.
The walls seemed to breathe heavily, the floor was raising, chinaware fell off the top of the cupboards and the furniture moved in all directions. It looked like a scene from a horror movie. Thanks to the adults’ alertness, we were led out of the house and into the street where we joined our bewildered neighbours who were crying and screaming.
The ground shook hard, we could barely stand. We were forced to sit down, huddled together holding on for our dear lives. I pictured the ground gaping and swallowing all of us alive. I whispered what I thought was my last prayer, “Lord, into your hands I commit my soul.”
It turned out that the heavens decided to spare us. After the major shake-up came more aftershocks. We were forced to sleep outdoors in the cold to be safe.
Hundreds were not as lucky. That was the killer quake that hit Baguio City on July 16, 1990. It hit 7.7 on the Richter scale and the tremor lasted 45 seconds but it felt like forever.
On our way home the next day, we saw the extent of the devastation. We had to walk back to our place for there was hardly any transportation with all the destruction around. Electricity and communication lines were cut. There was no water for days, major buildings collapsed including the Hyatt Terraces Hotel, the Saint Vincent Church and the towering Skyworld condominium along Session Road. Many homes were torn to the ground. It was nerve-wrecking to realize that the bowling alley where we hung out just three days ago was suddenly turned into a mass grave.
The cancellation of classes that day turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us. There was no major destruction at the Saint Louis University and no one was hurt. The nearby University of Baguio was not as lucky. A school building collapsed and hundreds of students were trapped in classrooms and trapped between floors. Several days later, aftershocks still hit us and floodwaters ran red as torrential rains came carrying the stench of death.
Fast forward to the future. 25 years later, the whole country faces another threat: The Big One. Pakistan was similarly hit by a 7.7 magnitude in September 24, 2013 and another 5.6 tremor on June 30 this year, followed by an intensity 5.1 earthquake last July 24. Experts predict it would not be too long before the Big One strikes Metro Manila with a major movement in the West Valley Fault.
Last July 30, 2015, a nationwide drill was led by the Philippine Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Save for the places where there was media coverage, people who were involved from other areas were quite lackadaisical. In our work place, the siren that was supposed to signal the start of the drill was hardly heard. The participants did not seem to have a sense of urgency. They just obliged to leave their workstations because they were told beforehand that it was supposed to happen at 10:30 a.m. Some people got out of the office walking, talking and laughing while some came late for the gathering at open spaces. They were too distracted with their own amusements to even pay attention to the speaker.
Complacency will not save us from the Big One. Most of the Baguio survivors made it alive with a keen survival instinct and most importantly, a sharp presence of mind.
We are luckier to have the time to prepare and learn what we will do before, during and after the Big One. Institutions are launching public information campaign on what to do during earthquakes through the mass media.
Schools educate and train children. We are constantly reminded about the three basic steps to be safe indoors during and earthquake: 1) Drop to the ground; 2) Take cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and; 3) Hold on to it until the shaking stops. Experts advise us to “protect our head, neck and face” during a tremor and to move to an open area away from falling hazards such as trees, power lines, and buildings.”
After a major shake-up, expect aftershocks to last for several days.
Some families even go to the extent of preparing their emergency backpacks as advised by the Red Cross which may include a flashlight, first aid kit, whistle as well as water and food rations that may last for 1 to 3 days.
But in the end, those who wisely heed are more likely to survive.
The UCI advises to “know how to act so your response is automatic.” Constant review of the safety tips will help set the subconscious mind to the auto mode especially when the Big One actually happens. Through it all, it is best to remain calm.
When nature unleashes the Big One, the possibility of losing our loved ones is no joke. Prayer definitely helps but we always have to couple it with action. The big question is, “how prepared are we?”
Images: Haiti earthquake from Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.