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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Pulumbarit

Five lessons from the deadly 1990 Luzon earthquake

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

I thought I would die underneath a rubble of books during the deadly Luzon earthquake that happened 30 years ago on July 16, 1990 at 4:26 p.m.

I happened to be at the library of the UP College of Mass Communications (CMC) in Diliman, Quezon City, working on my assignment for our Communications Strategies class.

Suddenly, the ground shook and rows of tall bookshelves behind me started shaking. I thought I would be crushed to death by the bookshelves but thankfully, managed to move to safety.

I cannot recall how I walked or ran to the CMC grounds from the library at the second floor of Plaridel Hall.

I remember going back to the library after the earthquake struck to pick up my bag and books which I left on the table as I rushed out to safety.

At that time, there were no mobile phones yet, no internet, no online news, and no social media where we could follow the news.

When I went back to our Ilang-Ilang dormitory inside the UP campus, my roommates, friends, and I had no idea about the extent of the damage of the earthquake.

We only learned later on through TV, radio, and newspapers that the magnitude-7.8 earthquake wrought damage in Cabanatuan City and Baguio City far worse than Metro Manila and other areas.

Cabanatuan City is the hometown of our late father Lauro Velarde. I became very worried when I heard that a six-story school there had collapsed during school hours, killing 154 people.

The situation in other areas wasn't good either. In Baguio City, about 28 buildings collapsed, including hotels, schools, and government buildings.

All in all, more than 1,600 people died in various parts of the country, mostly in Central Luzon and the Cordillera region.

As there were no mobile phones yet, I was praying and wondering how I could get in touch with my parents to know how they and my two siblings were doing. God, in His goodness, answered my prayers immediately. Less than an hour after I arrived at our dorm, my parents arrived and brought me home with them.

Reflecting on the events that happened during the 1990 Luzon earthquake, I believe there are important lessons that we can apply during the COVID-19 pandemic and other calamities. Personally, these are the lessons that I learned:

(1) Access to communication gadgets is extremely crucial during a crisis.

If it were only possible, how I wish that every person in the world, seven years old and above, would be provided by governments with good and reliable mobile phones that have unlimited calls and unlimited internet usage.

Mobile phones are useful in keeping in touch with family members; asking for help during emergencies; distance learning, and keeping updated about the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic or other crisis situations.

(2) Every person should know how to save himself or herself and every family should have a disaster plan.

These are crucial lessons I picked up from Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, when I interviewed him during a "kapihan" about the so-called "Big One."

Based on a report of the risk assessment and consultancy firm PSA Philippines Consultancy Inc. (PSA), about 52,000 people could die when a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hits Metro Manila.

An article about the report -- the “Metro Manila Earthquake Vulnerability Assessment 2019” -- noted that 500,000 people could be injured, some 500 fires could break out, and about 4,000 water supply points could be cut off when the Big One strikes Metro Manila.

Who knew that the "Bigger One" the COVID-19 pandemic that affected the entire world except Antarctica, would happen before the Big One?

(3) Disaster Training for children and their families.

Schools should have a subject for all students about disaster training. The lessons should be simple, age-appropriate, and creative.

The lessons should also be oriented in a way such that children would not be afraid of disasters and calamities but should be fully-equipped and ready to cope with any situation.

Communities can also provide simple and helpful disaster training for all families.

Photo by 周 康 from Pexels

(4) Buddy System.

Every person should have at least one other person outside the family as his or her official "Buddy" in times of disasters or calamities, even during storms or mild earthquakes.

It would help if Buddies can keep themselves updated about each other's situations via mobile phone (call or text), Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and so on.

(5) Pray, pray, pray.

God is powerful and merciful. Miracles can happen if we trust Him and humbly and lovingly seek His help and protection.

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