Sunday, December 1, 2013


IT IS THE FEAST OF Sacrifice for the faithfuls of Islam – Eid’l Adha – and it is a bright sunny day. It is October 15, 2013 and it is a legal holiday here in the Philippines and it made many people happy, especially children for there are no classes. My wife did not bother to wake me up early that morning. When I do rise from the bed it was almost 8:00 AM.

I enjoy the day as if it is a Sunday and, as usual, I drink a glass of water coming from the tap before going to the bath. My wife and grandson Jarod are watching TV and I join them in the living room. It is 8:20 AM. Suddenly, without warning, I felt the unmistakable shake of the ground coming from an oncoming earthquake before it begins to accelerate.

I immediately stood up to take shelter under the stairs. The stairs, along with the doorway, are my assigned refuge areas should an earthquake hit Cebu. The stairway is made of steel anchored on a landing three-feet high with the highest step welded to six-inch wide steel purlins and attached to three angle-bar trusses. My wife, together with Jarod, ran towards the doorway.

As me and my wife were shouting for the rest of our household, who all were still asleep upstairs, to evacuate the house, she automatically switch off the main electrical switch while I hold the TV set from falling down and lean my body weight towards my book shelf to keep it from falling. It is like wrestling a brute animal. The earthquake is persistent but I did not give an inch, no matter what, and no book fell.

One by one, Lovella, Gringo, Rocky, Kurt and Gabriel stream down the stairs for the outdoors. I admit I got goose bumps when the quake rose in intensity with such magnitude that had never ever been in my memory. I wished it would stop but it seemed to shake itself forever. The pandemonium caused was like a thousand 18-wheeler loaded trucks running full-speed on a rough road beside your house.

When I think that the shaking of my house was too much and too long, I unashamedly shout to Providence begging the earthquake to stop and my plea was heard or so it seemed. It stopped. Silence. I see my wife crying by the doorway. The rest of my household were on the footbridge and are quite shocked but okay. I trust on that bridge since I know how it was built and how thick the steel bars used.

I go back the house and check on the damage. I see no major cracks on the walls on ground level then I run up the stairs. When I am at the second floor, a strong aftershock hit my house again and I see my firewall swaying east and west. Amazingly, this house is so resilient. During its construction, all the beams, posts and frames are made of steel. I know very well that steel is very flexible unlike concrete.

All the bottles are down but no breakage, especially my Yellow Tail Shiraz and Johnnie Walker Black, which were placed above the ref and fell to the floor but, miraculously, remained intact. Another aftershock came, this time swift, brief and strong. I quickly filled a Nalgene bottle with cold water and went out with it together with my cellphone, my William Rodgers knife and the Cignus V85 VHF/UHF radio.

Once I rejoined my family on the bridge, some of my neighbors are already there. I turn on the radio and scan the different channels. I monitor each and caught some important communications like one individual’s observation of bubbles coming from the depths of the harbor waters at the waterfront, another’s alarming report on the damage of the Cebu South Bus Terminal and another report on a fire in Duljo-Fatima.

I sent text messages to my Camp Red network for the epicenter of the earthquake since I have no Internet connectivity in my home. I got replies and all tell that it is a 7.2 magnitude on the Richter Scale and its center is two kilometers south of Carmen, Bohol. Holy Toledo! I cannot believe it. I noticed the black creek beside my house shaken from its murky stupor.

My estimate was that it was a 6.6 but later reports says it was a 6.8 that hit Cebu. I check the outer walls of my house and along its foundations like the creek retaining wall and the bridge itself where we took our refuge. I check for tell-tale signs of dust and I found plenty on the bottom of my firewall since the outer part is unfinished. That is the weakest part of my house and I will retrofit it once I have a budget.

Aftershock after aftershock, we all stayed on the bridge and when the tremors are not that intense anymore, I visit the backstreet where most of my neighbors lived. All stayed outside and I have never seen so many neighbors! There seemed to be no major damage on their homes and other structures so I go back to the bridge and inspect the wall of a public school for tell-tale signs.

I walk past the school onto the main thoroughfare and looked for structural cracks on the old MJ Cuenco Bridge but I see it had not sagged in the middle nor the problematic soil erosion on one of the foundations where a warehouse is presently built was disturbed. A lot of people are on the street though and too few vehicles.

I go back to the rallying point and we all decide to go back inside the house but two successive aftershocks cause all to go back outside. Another calm interlude and we all found ourselves back inside. When another tremor came, all refused to budge anymore because they could now discern the difference in intensity.

When I think everyone is calm and confident, I leave the house astride a company motorcycle to make a tour of the city and of the offices where the company I worked for are servicing. I pass by GMC Building near Plaza Independencia and it was all rubble on their front parking lot as a parapet fell from its facade. Detritus on the bases of buildings tell of damage overhead and a good sign to evade those areas.

I proceed to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño but it was cordoned off. I continue on foot and take pictures of the severe damage of its belfry. Across this holy place is a commercial building where its top annex serving as a penthouse, collapsed. Two blocks away, the steel tower of the 14-storey Century Hotel is bent at the half.

I arrive at the Cebu South Bus Terminal and the covered interiors are now off-limits to people. A lot of the acoustic boards that cover the ceilings, to include its metal holders, collapsed and fell to the floor. A row of fluorescent lighting units are suspended by their wires after the boards fell and a lot of glass blocks on the entrance and exit facades are crushed and splintered.

From downtown, I cruise for the uptown area and arrive at the Cebu Provincial Capitol, the seat of government of the Province of Cebu. There were a lot of structural cracks on the old building but the greatest damage is from its annex building where a slab of concrete fell on the parking lot infront of the post office. Moreover, the ceiling panels of the Vice Governor’s Office have collapsed to the floor.

I move on next to the Capitol Central Hotel, Leadamorphosis BPO, Escario Building, Cebu Grand Hotel, KIA-Gorordo before making a coffee stop at the Pag-IBIG Fund in Cebu Business Park. From there, I motor on to Sky Rise 1 and Sky Rise 2 at the Cebu IT Park and continue on to the Banilad Town Center. I park momentarily to take a walk to the nearby Gaisano Country Mall, where a big slab of concrete supporting an access stairway broke and fell to pieces.

After that I go to the office to monitor the damage online before leaving at 6:00 PM for home. In all that time, there were already several strong aftershocks and my wife had been texting me to come home as it is already dusk. I returned the motorcycle to its parking area in my neighborhood and everyone are staying outdoors afraid of being caught inside in darkness during strong aftershocks.

My presence brought back assurance of safety to my household as they were held hostage to anxiety and fear when darkness fell. I feel the warmth of homelife beginning to glow as everyone are present and engage in conversations. Calamities such as these brought us more closer as we tuned in to primetime news. Dinner is served and I assume my position as the house patriarch.

The island province of Bohol was the most affected area. 17th and 18th Century Catholic churches, most of these heritage sites and natural treasures, were not spared. The old structures crumbled like sandcastles and the grandeur of yesteryears vanished along with it. I am quite sure that there would be a lot of casualties in Bohol as there were in Cebu.

It was the strongest earthquake I have experienced yet, surpassing the 5.6 magnitude that shook Negros Oriental last year which unleashed a grand tsunami scare in Cebu. Before that, it was a 4.5 in 1989 with epicenter at Southern Leyte. Cebu may be protected by other islands from tsunamis, but it is not anymore immune from big tremors. I am quite alarmed that crust movements are getting uncomfortably intense and so close.

That recent quake lasted THIRTY-TWO SECONDS. If that would go one minute, I am very sure that there would be a lot of old and recent structures tumbling down along with a high casualty rate. I would have survived, of course, underneath my steel staircase even with falling debris but the cost of repairing the damage would have been appalling but not insurmountable.

Always always ALWAYS designate a refuge spot inside your house. That spot is, by your own judgment, the safest place to weather a strong quake. If that cannot be possibly available, prepare an escape route and practice it by memory. That route should take you away from standing structures like unfinished firewalls, electric posts, water tanks, high fences and glass-paneled high-rises. You must also avoid standing below cliffs and coconuts.

Almost always, electrical power will stop and cellular communications will bog down in the first ten minutes. Use the hand held radio, if you have one, to monitor communication traffic and to inquire information. If you do not have two-way radio, use an old-school transistor radio instead and tune in to AM channels. Through these, you will dispel uncertainty and panic among your family and your neighbors.

If you had prepared yourself well from disasters, you and your family would survive the first three days. This time frame is very critical since help would usually come, at the most, 72 hours after the initial impact. Within this span, you and your family will subsist on food and water you stocked prior to disasters. I would encourage people to start learning about prepping and urban survival.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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