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'I Remember It Started As A Roar:' This Mom Was 5 Years Old When The 1990 Baguio Earthquake Happened
PHOTO BY WIKIPEDIA and RM URQUICO
  • On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, an intensity 7.0 earthquake struck Luzon, resulting in loss of life, injuries, and damage to structures in different parts across the island. It was so powerful that the quake was felt all the way up to Metro Manila. It was a grim reminder of the unpredictability and power of nature.

    It brought back tremendous memories of an earlier quake, in 1990, when I was a young girl. Most Baguio natives can probably tell you where they were, and what they were doing the moment the 7.7 earthquake hit the city.  It was a defining moment for the city and its people.

    A thousand crashing rocks

    I was four or five years old. We were watching Dyesebel on our tiny television, in the only room with a TV. I had just come home from school and was likely still wearing my uniform. My sister Asia and I were pretending to be mermaids, swimming on the sheets. My other sister Jasmine was still a baby and our helper, Ate Clarita, was rocking her as we watched.

    Later in life, Jasmine would become a geologist and tell me that the intensity of the earthquake was 6.9 or 7.1, depending on the measurement.

    I remember it started as a roar, like a great beast knelt by our window and bellowed into it. It was a horrifying rumble of a thousand crashing rocks.

    The earth leapt and the bed began to shake. I remember hanging on and panicking. I must have been screaming, but that part I don't remember.

    I sat frozen in the middle of the mattress until Ate Clarita shrieked for me to head over where they huddled under the door jamb. I remember looking for my slippers and making my way to her. I remember that she carried us out the door, rushed through the hallway, and ran out the front door. The ground heaved up, trying to buck us off. The earth will split open just like in the cartoons, I thought. We will get swallowed up and no one will ever see us again.

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    RELATED: 'My Daughter And I Were On The 33rd Floor When The Earthquake Happened. We Were Not Prepared'

    I recall watching my mother jumping over the concrete walls because our gate had fallen over. I remember the rush of relief I felt when I saw her.

    The walls had crumbled. She had been having a coffee with a friend in the neighborhood. I remember running into the yard with them.  They had taken shelter under a door jamb when she urged them to go outside. “My friend was pregnant,” my mom Elaine said. “I told them ‘labas tayo’ and we rushed outside. When the second one hit, we fell to the ground like dominoes.”

    An unforgettable Monday

    It was July 16, a Monday in the year 1990. At 4:26 p.m., the 7.7-magnitude earthquake ripped through the provinces of Aurora and Nueva Ecija, affecting a 20-kilometer area that included Baguio City. It lasted 45 seconds, according to CNN Philippines, and cost P15-billion in damages and thousands in lives.

    It was over and at the same time, it had just started. The women of our family – my mom and our helpers – banded together, stockpiling supplies (including a case of beer), and caring for the kids. I can't imagine because we were babies, toddlers, or attending pre-school at the time. It was easy to predict when the aftershocks would hit. “You could hear the rocks rumbling, coming towards you,” Mom recalled.

    When the earthquake hit, my dad wasn’t home. My dad was in Hawaii, and his plane had just touched down when his boss at the time told him a huge earthquake had just struck Baguio. He took the next plane out.

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    Our driver, Kuya Bert, stayed with us, because our gate and walls were destroyed, and the property wasn’t secure.

    Later, they told me stories of how my father bribed a friend to fly him out via helicopter only to have it crash-land in Cabanatuan. They told us stories of how my uncle Joe climbed the broken bones of Marcos Highway while delirious with jaundice, his backpack full of baby formula tins. My mother and my aunts never let our dads live it down.

    No one wanted to sleep inside their houses

    The days after were easy on us kids. We slept in a white L300 in the garden, under the trees and stars, because the aftershocks came in strong, and no one wanted to be in the house when they hit. (CNN Philippines reports that the after shock two days later had a 5.3 magnitude.)

    Our house was sound, although our fireplace and chimney has a huge crack up to this day. We had no idea that many people had lost their lives, that rescuers were digging people out of the rubble that had been Hyatt Hotel, or that people were banding together to share supplies and food.

    The author RM with her sisters Asia and Jasmine, and their helper Ate Clarita, who all survived the 1990 Baguio earthquake.
    PHOTO BY RM URQUICO
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    Since that day, my mother has never let our pantry go empty. "I was supposed to go to the market that day," She always says when she retells the story. "We didn't have time and none of us had food."

    In retrospect, we were lucky enough to have each other and lucky enough to have an existing network of people who knew what to do. Our family was lucky enough to live through it without losing a single soul.

    I never did finish watching Dyesebel.

    RELATED: The Best Thing To Do When An Earthquake Strikes And You're In A Car, Train, Elevator

    How to prepare for an earthquake

    Now, at 36, I am a parent myself, and I realize it’s impossible to prepare for a disaster that is unpredictable. However, you can equip your family with knowledge and to know to do during an earthquake or any other emergency.

    1. Implement an emergency preparedness plan and protocol for your household.

    Your family should have an emergency preparedness plan that includes what do if you’re home, at work, or school. Run safety drills with your family members to help know what to do and where to go in case there is an emergency in your home.

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    The protocol should include your household help and any other people who are normally present in your home like kasambahays. It should also include a communication plan to get in contact with each other, especially older children or family members who may be at work or school, and a pre-designated meeting place, like a nearby park or open area, in the event you get separated and there landlines or cellular lines are down.

    These days, while staying in touch can be easy, it’s imperative we keep our phones and power banks charged. During the 1990 quake, my mother had to go to a family friend because he was the only person she knew who owned a cellular phone.

    2. Prepare go-bags and first aid kits for your family.

    Go-bags can make a huge difference when it comes to making the most out of a bad situation. UNICEF recommends that go-bags contain enough food and water for three days, toiletries, emergency supplies, a medical or first aid kit, essential prescription medicines, and important documents for each family member.

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    You can also check out the CDC website for a thorough rundown of important items to include. For your home, this can also mean stocking up on emergency supplies like canned goods and water. We learned that the hard way during the Baguio earthquake.

    3. Be informed.

    It’s important to know what common disasters are in your area so you can be prepared for them. Floods, earthquakes, and fires are some of the more common emergencies in the Philippines. It can help determine your emergency plan and the contents of your go-bag.

    For example – going under a door jamb is no longer recommended for earthquakes. These days people are told to drop, cover, and hold. This kind of knowledge can help save your life.

    Learning basic survival skills, such as first aid, CPR, and swimming can also help you and your children be more prepared. Stay safe! 

    RM Urquico is a solo parent to one daughter and a working mom in public health communications. She also writes speculative fiction. Find her as @rmurquico on Twitter but "Honestly," she says, "I don't update my Twitter."

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