16 July 2007

Surviving the July 16 earthquake

Today is Cordillera Day. I was in Baguio last weekend and we dropped by SM to watch the latest Harry Potter flick but when we saw the looong line, we shrugged off the idea and shopped instead. There was a program showcasing native dances from the different regions of the Cordilleras. It's good that they have this to remind us of our proud heritage. Did you know that in the 70s there was an annual celebration by the locals called the Grand CaƱao? It was held in the Burnham Park soccer field. There would be dancing and pigs and cows slaughtered, with the participants given a hefty slice of meat! Gone are the days...

But I digress.

Incidentally, today is also the anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Baguio City and other regions in 1990. 17 years... has it been that long? I can still vividly remember that time when I was in college. There was a strike, forcing SLU to suspend classes. The library, among other offices, had to be kept operational and so we were asked to report for work. I was working my way through college as a library assistant then. We held office in the Basement of the 6-floor Fr. Ghisleen de Vos Library Bldg.

So there we were, around 4 of us, typing and writing the time away when we felt a jolt. We paused and everyone looked at the ceiling. It was quite strong but when it gradually slowed down, we continued with our work. And then just as sudden, the ground began to shake sideways! The sound was a deep bass that sounded like a machine grinding stone, combined with bookshelves falling one on top of the other like dominoes and books flying everywhere. Our shouts cannot be heard on top of this noise as we ran to the medical library adjacent to our office. The exit was so near us but when we were already a few steps from it, the roof collapsed! We held on to the nearest post and saw tables and chairs being crushed by the collapsing shelves.

After what seemed like hours, it finally subsided and we ran to the exit and shouted for help. People nearby heard our call and helped us over the debris. We went to the open space in front of the SLU Hospital and huddled together with grade school and high school kids as people and ambulance ran to and from the hospital bearing the wounded. There was crying and shouting everywhere. It was like you were watching something from a movie. We felt numb.

It was Daylight Savings Time. It was the first and last time ever that DST was implemented in the country and to some extent, I think the grade and high schools suffered less casualty than it would have because students left an hour early. If the multi-floored schools were fully-occupied at that time, I couldn't imagine what would have happened.

We walked down Session Road later that afternoon. It was like a ghost town. The wind felt eerily cold. Everybody had to walk home; we lived in San Vicente in Kennon Road at that time. Where there was once a winding cemented road, there was instead a muddy hill.

Those times were truly unforgettable. We walked from home to town to buy supplies from stores that had to close and keep just one window open with people scrambling to buy whatever they can. We received periodical relief goods. We listened to the AM Radio and candles lit our nights, with the aftershocks keeping us on our feet. The feet of the dead sticking out of makeshift tents in morgues out in the streets. Media frenzy told stories of outbreaks.

Looking back, I feel blessed to have survived the earthquake with my family safe and sound. Many were not so fortunate. While such calamities cannot be avoided, I pray in memory of July 16.

Photo credit and related link: Baguio Earthquake by the Hawaiian Webmaster


  1. I can only imagine what it's like to be in that situation. I already left for the states when the quake hit. You're only a few years older than me and I would've been starting college when the quake hit. I heard a lot of students died during the quake, including perhaps some of my former classmates from elementary school. I lost touch with them so I don't know. Thanks for the links. Been meaning to post about the earthquake. Will post maybe in the next few days.

  2. My mother-in-law had been gone when the earthquake struck by my wife and her brother were there. She told me once the story and it ended with her and her brother walking all the way down the mountain to be reunited with their mother. I shudder at the thought of what they went through.

    On my first visit to the Baguio, it happened to be during the anniversary and I saw a display set up on Session Road with video and pictures from that day.

  3. I was only in HS then when that earthquake happened. Even in Manila, malakas yung tremor. We were still in school, I was looking at the club bulletin board when I felt dizzy. I realized that it's the floor that is shaking/moving. I held my sister's hand and we ran down stairs and out of the building to the quadrangle.

  4. Wil: In UB, an entire floor of a college building was sandwiched. It was relatively fortunate that grade schoolers left their buildings an hour early due to DST.

    Ed: Yes, a large student population are lowlanders. With no roads passable by vehicles, they trekked down Baguio to go home. We lost a teacher in that quake. She was in a bus that was caught in a landslide.

  5. Anonymous6:20 pm

    kakatakot nga yan july 16
    nasa school kami nun na yari sa adobe tabi ng lumang simbahan...

    parang guguho...then yung flagpole parang tuning fork pati nga tore ng simbahan sumasayaw

  6. i was second year high school that time and we are out on the field for our PE class, even we were in quezon, ramdam na ramdam namin yung lakas nung lindol.

    my girlfriend was also in SLU when the quake hit baguio, and she said it was really a nightmare and that time they don't know where to go to. she considers this as her second life.

  7. Tutubi: Imagine sa Baguio... buildings were crashing...

    Zherwin: We know of family friends who went back to their provinces (they were already living in Baguio then) and never returned after the earthquake. But you can never really tell when your time is up, isn't it?

  8. Anonymous1:51 am

    i was at clark airbase servicing some GI equipment during that quake. terrible nga....

  9. Anonymous8:41 am

    Sheer destruction. Thought at that time, this earthquake will scare people and leave Baguio and for Baguio to become it's old self, but..it was a nightmare.
    This is sole reason NO ONE can convince to enter the SM Mall, didn't want to be just a statistic,
    my sorry ass self uncovered in some rubbles. Can always shop and drink coffee some place else.
    Nick, so you lived in San Vicente. When my parents built their house there in the late 60's, only five houses were standing including us. Am sure you've noticed it's sorry state.
    Cheers and goodhealth....

  10. July 16 is Mom's birthday... that time, she went home with lechon manok and we had to celebrate her birthday using candles to light up dinner... because electricity wasn't back yet...

    Anyway, it is indeed a blessing to have survived such a catastrophe... where many didn't... and it's really nice of you to remember that day, and the teachings it held for us all...

  11. Anonymous7:57 pm

    Every day we are given is truly a blessing. Sometimes, it takes a disaster to make us realize what matters most.

  12. Anonymous5:59 am

    The trauma last a few years for me. Whenever there was a slight tremor- from a passing vehicle i get jumpy. I become sensitive to small movements . I still can picture the devastation in my mind. It's an experience not worth repeating.

  13. Anonymous1:04 am

    Kung hindi na moved ang wedding date namin ni kd noon, more or less nasa baguio kami during the earthquake. Isang tragedy na kahit matagal na nangyari ay hindi talaga malilimutan, kasunod kasi yan ng pinatubo (1991).

  14. Anonymous2:11 pm

    I remember that day very wel, I was inside a Pines theatre watching a movie with my friend (we were off from school due to teacher's strike). It was scary. We ran all the way to Burnham Park. We managed to get out somehow though in panic.

    I also remember this day every year and pray for those who were taken by this disaster.

  15. Pepe: the quake was so strong it was felt in far-off places

    Trublue: My sister still lives there. Yeah, I'm saddened to see San Vicente's mountains ravaged by construction. May spring pa naman dun! Mahinang-mahina na yung tubig. Sayang talaga. But many of the people there think of nothing but making money out of renting poorly-made apartments.

    Mec: People who survived that earthquake also remember that day when ordinary people became heroes. Wait... TV show yata yun ah...

    Angel: that is true.

    Digitalchain: buti na lang you overcame it even if it took years.

    Ann: talaga? So... blessing in disguise na rin yung postponement.

    Leah: Haaayy... Pines Theater survived the earthquake but not SM. Sayang.

  16. watson,
    should have I accepted the job in a company in EPZA Baguio, I would have perished in that quake.

    The Controller died when the building collapsed.

    I would have been sitting there, if I did not have a misunderstanding with the person who was offering me the position.

  17. Cathy: It must have been your cat sense that saved you. Grabe ano, when you think of what could have happened?


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