Tibaldo: Remembering the great quake and not forgetting the lessons from it

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IT WAS good to know that one of Baguio's creative talents is producing a documentary on the great quake of 1990 through interviews, recollections and preserved images of people who experienced the big one.

I, too, was interviewed by Angelo Aurelio who is completing his documentary video of 30 respondents as this year is the 30th anniversary of that killer earthquake.

When the great killer Quake struck Northern Luzon and left massive damages to both lives and property in July 16, 1990, many tragic stories, sad experiences and traumatic experiences were heard from those who survived. It also gave us hard lessons that we are not likely to forget for a long time.

In fact, my sister-in-law Maria Lilibeth, then in her teens, was the crying girl at the Hyatt Terraces Hotel as her late father was one of the cooks at the collapsed building.

On that very same day, my wife Helen was about to give birth to my first child Timtam via Cesarean Section at the SLU Hospital but the big quake happened and Baguio, including many parts of North Luzon became powerless for weeks. The city was isolated due to collapse of bridges and massive erosion on mountain slopes so we were airlifted to La Union via US choppers and luckily to Villamor Airbase via AFP Fokker plane with then DND Sec. Fidel V. Ramos who prioritized the immediate evacuation of the injured and those needing immediate medical help.

A planning congress was formed by civic minded individuals and many resolutions were proposed as policy guidelines. One proposal that was well discussed was the limitation of buildings heights to about four-storey which was believed to be an old Marcos idea that buildings in Baguio shouldn't be taller than mature pine trees.

I remember what the late Dr. Raymundo Punongbayan once told us during a seminar on disaster preparedness that a person staying in a building should right away go up to the highest level and not go down as there is more chance to survive at the upper level during quakes. The liquefaction that happened in the Dagupan City, Pangasinan area, the massive soil erosion that occurred in Benguet and the upheaval in Barangay Digdig, Caranglan, Nueva Ecija also revealed the different effects of earthquake that originated from Tectonic and Volcanic activities of the earth.

Since the tragic big one, we learned helpful tips on what to do in case an earthquake happens. It was said that a person should drop to the ground, take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture and hold on until the shaking stops. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture. Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture, window or anything else that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place like under the beam or horizontal support that are anchored between two walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury and statistics show that most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects. We should be able to know what to do during disasters because the worst thing can happen if we do not know what to do when disaster strikes.

Use a doorway for shelter only if it is accessible to you and brace yourself on the jambs with the hinges to avoid the door swinging at you. Stay inside until shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Many researches proved that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave as the shaking happens. In the 90s alone, we had numerous disaster preparedness training and my former classmates from the Philippine National Police have already retired and our resource speaker Gen. Renato de Villa, then Secretary of National Defense already left this world.

Open spaces in Baguio like the Melvin Jones football field and the athletic oval in Burnham Park served as tent city and launching pad and I wish our remaining open spaces will remain as is not only for incident triage but also for mass evacuation. Let us not forget the hard lessons learned during the great quake of Baguio.

In memory of the departed, including our recent Baguio Media elders Manong Narciso Padilla, my classmate in disaster training and Ramon Dacawi who went ahead to the great beyond, we identified a memorial tree planting site at the Busol Watershed. During months of June and July, our media group often had several environmental programs and I remember Manong Ramon or Mondax narrating how the Eco-Walk Program started from simply asking a group of children where water from the faucet came from. A class discussion actually ensued until the children all agreed to see a forest and that's how the story of Baguio's award winning environment program Eco-Walk started sometime in 1992 as one of the recovery programs from the devastating effect of the killer quake of 1990.


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