Originally from a country located in the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire' ( a successful poetic take on an actually scary earthquake and volcano belt), seismic tremors are not new to me. We always have earthquakes in the Philippines to know that after a major tremor, aftershocks will follow suit. So when our office building swayed at 1:58 pm resulting from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake today, the first thing I did was to look for a sturdy piece of furniture to hide from any falling debris. I was already in all fours under the table when the ever-reliable adrenalin brought me back my wits. I realized three things:
- Given a possible worst case scenario, I'm on the upper floor of a mid-rise building that was built on top of a huge subway station which could also cave in under me.
- None of the furniture look sturdy enough to protect us. In fact, the table was a post-modern style pre-fab wood that has a trendy yet flimsy metal frame stand.
- The drills we practiced during my grade school years in the Philippines didn't apply to US, much more in metro New York where tall buildings and busy underground tunnels and subway systems are the norm.
Upon realizing these facts, I rushed to the doorway where everyone else went. Our building caters to healthcare-related businesses so there was a lot of disabled and geriatric patients who scrambled to the exit together with the hordes of office workers whose reactions varied. Some were smiling and seemed amused with I don't know what . A lot were nervously in a panic and were shouting names of those who got lost in the flood of people. A few others led the people out and were comforting those who looked disheveled and obviously out of synch. In the confusion, I could hear five different languages being spoken. Mobile networks were jammed. Elevators were shut down. In my head, scary scenes from a disaster movie I watched recently came to mind. Gripped in fear, I prepared myself for the worst. As we walk-run down the stairs, I took my female CFO's hand and grasped it hard until we were out in the streets. I prayed and thought of all the people who were in much taller buildings. When we got out I was teary eyed mostly because of emotional shock, but also because I remembered the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated the Ilocano North in 1990.
It was an afternoon in July 16 when the fateful earthquake struck Central Luzon. The epicenter was Dagupan City, barely an hour drive away from my hometown in Camiling, Tarlac. At that time, I was a 10 year-old kid enrolled in a public elementary school that has old post war brick buildings for classrooms. Our class was in session; we were taking a difficult Math test when I noticed the pencil roll off the desk. Then one of my classmates yelled in Ilocano, 'Aggingineg!' that meant there is an earthquake. We immediately evacuated the old building and were piled up in the schoolyard as we waited for our parents to pick us up. Huddled together we watched how a few boulders from the nearby historic St. Michael's Catholic Church fell down. That same day and even days after, the aftershocks were so violent that at one point our chandelier almost hit the ceiling as it swung from left to right. Parts of our concrete house had hairline cracks and some antique vases were smashed. My neighbor's huge aquarium crashed killing all those oriental fishes that broke the children's hearts.
Further north it was at its worst. It was estimated that more than 1,500 people died. The whole world watched in horror as local and foreign press agencies showed rescuers pull out one body after another from the rubbles of a 4-star hotel and many other poorly built establishments and schools. Baguio City -- dubbed as the summer capital in the Philippines because of its location in mountainous Cordillera -- together with the big Northern cities such as Dagupan and Cabanatuan, suffered the most damages with collapsed residential and commercial buildings, destroyed major roads and thousands of residents displaced without access to electricity and potable water.
Now scanning the news feeds, I am glad that there was no serious damage. My friends and relatives in Virginia and the East Coast are all fine. It was scary ... Surely one hell of an experience especially to a shocked New York that is much more prepared for man-made disasters rather than nature's wrath. It stands as a strong reminder that no one and nothing is invincible --- especially when it is Mother Nature who chooses to strike.CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE 20th ANNIVERSARY ARTICLE ON THE JULY 1990 EARTHQUAKE. Click here for EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS checklist of Red Cross.