Tuesday, July 24, 2012

'90 Quake 'Like Whirlwind'


Photo by Leo O. Laparan II

Manila Bulletin published this special story on July 15, 2012 (front page).The article can also be accessed at: http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/365979/90-quake-like-whirlwind
MANILA, Philippines — On July 16, 1990, at exactly 4:26 p.m., a magnitude 7.8 earthquake shuddered Luzon.

The temblor lasted less than a minute, but its devastation was horrific— at least 1,621 lives lost, and P15 billion in destroyed buildings, roads and bridges.

The earthquake will be remembered as one of the worst quakes in the last century.

Twenty-two years later, quake survivors from Baguio and Cabanatuan cities, the two hardest hit areas, recounted their tales to the Manila Bulletin Research Team.

BAGUIO CITY — “Ano ‘yon, Daddy, ipu-ipo?”

Seven-year-old Leia Fidelis Gisela Castro, had been awakened from her afternoon nap by a loud roar, like a whirlwind.

“Hindi, lindol!” her father answered as their residence in Barangay Lualhati in this city began shaking violently.

Hours after the main tremor and the strongest aftershock, Baguio was a grim scene of crushed buildings, crumpled roads, and people frantically searching for missing or dead loved ones and friends.
The night of July 16, Leia and her family slept in improvised tents they set up in their front yard, near the Mansion House.

She was unaware of the magnitude of the tragedy. “It was an enjoyable event for my sibling and me, since pup tents were part of our playthings,” said Leia, who was in Grade Two then.

“When you’re a child, everyone will provide for you. You don’t worry about where to get food and water” Leila said in an interview over breakfast at Le Monet Hotel in Camp John Hay last week.

She accompanied MB Research in a three-hour trek to the sites where Hotel Nevada and Hyatt Terraces Hotel used to stand.

The quake struck 20 days before her eighth birthday. I was disappointed because my sister had a big birthday celebration earlier. “I told my Mom I must have a big birthday bash too.” Leia said.

Empty and fenced -- this is where Hyatt Terraces Hotel used to stand
(Baguio City, July 2012)  
At that time, her mother, Delia, was working as the outlet head at The Delicatessen in Hyatt.

She was not in hotel when the quake brought it down like a house of cards.

Her father, Charles, had postponed his trip to Los BaƱos, Laguna that same day.

Hotel Nevada, now Nevada Squares (Baguio City, July 2012)
“The fallen (Hyatt) apartelle looked like pieces of sliced loaf bread, piled and pushed on one side. People around were running, shouting and crying. I think I even saw men pulling out live and dead bodies from the rubble,” Leia described in “The July 16, 1990 Baguio Earthquake: A Personal Account.”

The article won first prize in the college category of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Earthquake Experience Story Writing Contest in commemoration of the quake’s 10th anniversary in 2000.

Hotel Nevada is now Nevada Square, a commercial complex, while Hyatt’s lot is now a fenced empty private property.

“There were no vehicles, no electricity, no water, Leia, described Baguio’s isolation. “The roads were destroyed. My grandfather from Mountain Province walked for two days just to check if were safe. When he learned we were okay, he walked back.”

The restoration of electricity in the city in September was a cause for celebration, Leia said.

Another quake survivor, Le Monet Hotel Front Desk supervisor Toni Aguilar, regarded July 16 as the day she, her mother, and her brother “died.”

“After the quake, the NSO (National Statistics Office) made a list of the survivors. Our names were not in the list,” Aguilar said.

Their relatives assumed that the entire family had perished in the tragedy.

“Our grandparents in the Visayas had built a tomb for us,” said Aguilar, who was eight then.

It was only in her graduating years in college that her grandparents learned they are still alive. The tombs still exist as for as Aguilar knows.

Leia is now an editorial consultant for the community newspaper Baguio Midland Courier and a senior law student at the University of Cordilleras.

She lives in Camp 7, which is quite far from the city’s center.

“We left Lualhati, and had a new house built,” one that doesn’t straddle any known fault line, she said.

Their neighbor, a geologist, helped Leia’s family choose a new site for their house.

Tomorrow, there will be a memorial service at Baguio Cathedral for the victims of the quake. As in years past, Leia will attend the service.

For Toni, the trauma lingers.. “When it happens again,” she said, “I can never be ready."

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