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. Dead people's feet 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, and to have my family. Some 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

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