Friday, November 15, 2013

The day Bohol shook

I was born and raised in Tagbilaran City, the capital city of Bohol. I remember being terrified when Typhoon Nitang snapped two coconut trees right in our own courtyard. The torrential rains didn’t stop. It flooded the whole yard. Thank God our house was a bit elevated the waters didn’t get inside. I remember Mother promising to cut all the remaining standing coconut trees as soon as the storm subsided. True to her word, the following day, all the remaining coconuts were felled. I didn’t feel sorry for them. I felt relieved. Nitang happened when I was in college.

A couple of years after, I relocated to Cebu City for my first job - my first power industry job. In Cebu, I remember being scared again when ferocious typhoon Ruping with its howling wind attacked Cebu. Power supply was cut off for several days in the city.

Then, I relocated to General Santos City. Boy was I petrified when the city was besieged by bomb attacks in May 2000. I was very scared I told my former boss I had better gone home to Bohol. Naturally he prevailed over my frightened reaction. He said something about succumbing to terrorists’ tactics if city residents left. The terrorists would have won then, hands down.

Fast forward to October 15, 2013. Nothing could have prepared me for the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol. As the house shook fiercely together with a thunderous roar and objects started falling, I thought the house was going to crumble and worse, would collapse on me. Imagine that scene. I would be pinned down dead. Only presence of mind kicked me out from under the table of my bedroom and raced towards the door directly to the street. People were already on the streets shaking and trembling in their sleep wear. It was a holiday after all and people took their sweet time sleeping. It was supposed to be a day of relaxation. People can get up late because there was no work and no school for students. But that day was meant for something else. Sinister, for some; life-changing for others.

A lot of people were terrorized by the experience. The aftershocks didn’t help diminish the fear. Even up to this writing, aftershocks are still felt. It’s normal to feel afraid. I think for the most parts, we are afraid to die. A wise man said we should embrace death for it is a natural part of life. But when disasters occur, we forget whatever any wise man says and run for our lives. Don’t we? It’s our survival instinct that prevails. We run for cover. So maybe we’re not afraid to die after all, but afraid to die a painful death. Imagine being pinned down by a collapsing house. You feel every bone of your body breaks and you cry for help. It’s pure agony and it’s heartbreaking to even write about it.

There are so many painful stories from this side of the archipelago but all these have been heard, seen, and viewed from everywhere, thanks to advanced technology.

Suddenly, you’re thrust out of your comfort zone. Within seconds, you feel insecure about your life. It does not matter what type of house we live in.  An earthquake can flatten it in seconds. That’s right. A very powerful 20-30 second mainshock alters everything. If it were longer, the devastation could have been greater. The loss of lives could have doubled.

While at it, I asked Engr. Nolan Evangelista, an expert from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and who happens to be a city neighbor about the recent earthquake. Nolan said, “The mainshock was characterized by slow ground shaking for about 10 seconds. This was followed by a strong vertical motion from 10 to 20 seconds.” I am not an expert but we can surmise logically that the vertical motion caused the collapse of the centuries-old churches.

Loon Church
The churches are another story. Being a provincial lass, I have seen all these churches up close and personal. I have been inside these churches. I have even taken photographs of these grand structures. They are huge, mystical, and transcend time. Imagine centuries. So many callused and dainty feet have walked either the wooden or tiled aisle. So many veiled and unveiled heads have looked up to admire the arches and columns. So many weddings and funerals held. Truly, the churches are a class of their own. A writer said, “We will also mourn their destruction because they have been part of our history and culture”. She said, “They will leave a scar as well.”     

Boholanos will have to accommodate the changes brought about by the recent earthquake. There will be many changes. For the badly-hit municipalities, life will never be the same again. It will be a fresh start, a new beginning.

For all of us who are affected in various ways by the disaster, our perspectives have totally changed. There is a new appreciation for life, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. There is a deeper relationship with the Creator; a stronger faith.  We discover our own depths of generosity, compassion, and empathy. We have bonded as a people. More importantly, we have become truly attuned to our own humanity.
The seal of history

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