Why I Never Felt How Strong the 1990 Earthquake Was

Hyatt Hotel in Baguio
Image taken from the ABS-CBN News site

Natural disasters and heinous crimes were familiar news headlines in the 90s. The series of misfortunes started on July 16, 1990, when a deadly quake hit most parts of Luzon. What do I remember? I could start the story by recalling the events that happened from that Monday morning until the evening. They say that in the absence of modern equipment that could predict an earthquake, we could rely on the changes in animal behavior for some clues. I remember that during the weekend, there were more ants than usual and our dogs appeared restless. But other than that, there were no signs of a forthcoming disaster like a small earthquake. Back in the 90s, July and August were the peaks of the rainy season. But on that particular month, the rainfall was lighter than the previous year. I should know because our barangay has always been the catchbasin and our yard was dry when the earthquake happened.

After school, I went home and started doing my assignments. It was around 3:30 PM when the statue of the Sto. Nino started dancing. I got scared and thought of it as a paranormal event. I realized that there was a strong earthquake when the figurines began moving. Being prone to motion sickness, I jumped up and down to prevent myself from feeling the quake. As a consequence, I did not have any idea of how strong it was and thought of it as one of the regular quakes we had. My mother checked me on the phone; I assured her that I was good.

Malakas ah. Hindi ka nahilo? (It was strong. You didn’t feel dizzy?)” she asked.

I assured her that I was okay. She asked if my brother was home. I told her that he was still in school. I was home alone. The aftershocks lasted for another 30 minutes. I went out of the house and saw neighbors on their windows. They were alarmed but they did not look scared. After another 30 minutes, my father came home and if you knew him, you could imagine the tension on his face. He asked about my brother and I told him that he was not home yet. He checked on his walkie-talkie and found that it was muted. (I muted it because I was doing my homework earlier). I expected him to get mad at me for not hearing him but he left the house and probably went to check my brother in school.

Since we were not yet in the age of social media or advanced satellite reporting, I had no idea about the damages in the other areas. We knew that some parts of Luzon were affected but the recorded footage was shown on TV the following day only. I could not remember if our school suspended the classes for one week or two weeks. I used those times to listen to the news or watch TV about the rescue operations in Baguio, Pangasinan, and Nueva Ecija. Unfortunately, it became a retrieval operation later on.

I have yet to confirm it but it was said that Bea Lucero was among those who were checked in in either Nevada or Hyatt. She survived when she used her athletic skills to run as fast as she could. Years later, I saw the remaining rubble of these hotels. What I could not forget until now is the interview of a young high school girl whose lower body was trapped under large debris. She was lying face down and was obviously in great pain. Before she passed, she said “I love you” to her parents. It would be any parents’ nightmare if a similar thing happens to their child.

The Big One can happen anytime soon so we should learn from the 1990 7.7 magnitude earthquake. We should teach our children about what to do during and after an earthquake. We should inspect our house for structural defects like diagonal cracks. The same goes for our children’s school. We may not prevent another big earthquake but with stronger structures, we have a chance to survive.