Surviving 2 Natural Disasters: 1990 Earthquake and Mt. Pinatubo eruption

This article goes back to memory lane when I had to ask myself twice: Will I still be able to reach the day of my birthday alive?It narrates my childhood experience surviving 2 natural disasters: 1990 earthquake and Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

16th of July 1990 Luzon, Philippines

It was my first time to experience an earthquake. We were answering an exercise book in our classroom when the earthquake was felt. My classmates and I were all shocked staring at each other. The class president screamed “ Earthquake! Duck!”

We immediately went under our desks. Our class teacher was outside then, so when she entered the room, I saw her crying. She told us to go out immediately. There was only one door in our room. Good thing nobody pushed each other.

We were running while the ground was still shaking. Looking back, it was difficult to run in a straight line while the ground moved. Our class was the first one to arrive at the open space of the school. It was the advantage of being on the ground floor.

However, we heard the screams of the other students going down the stairs from the 2nd to the 5th floor of the school building. They told us afterward that as if the building was swaying back and forth.

According to the article in the New York Times (published July 17, 1990), the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter Scale lasting 45 seconds. Aftershocks followed.

I saw my fellow children started crying but I didn’t. I was stunned. Too shocked to even react. I thought I was going to die. The end of the world has come. I was wrong.

Classes were suspended because the building inspectors had to check for days just to be sure the school buildings were safe.

I remembered my parents turn on the television every night just to be updated with the news. I didn’t understand most of it but I remembered the photos and videos the disaster had caused.

There were a lot of structures that collapsed. A lot of people died or were critically injured. The survivors from the rubble were all working on the top floors. It dawned on me that if the school building collapsed, we were on the ground floor. We could have been buried alive!

It was a lot to take in. Seeing people crying on TV because their loved ones were found dead or still missing or critically fighting for their lives made me cry. I had a delayed reaction. Lucky for me I could live another day.

Photo by Katherine Hanlon

Filipinos have a strong faith in the Lord. It helps in enduring hardships no matter how bad the situation is.  I remembered offering prayers when we went back to school. Donations were given and distributed to the places that were hit hard by the earthquake. Assistance was given by many countries.

Obviously, I reached the day of my birthday alive and well. Thank God.

 15th of June 1991 Mt. Pinatubo Eruption

Other Filipinos experienced worse than what I did. This is my story.

We were looking up at the sky. There was a huge gray cloud and it was the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo. During that moment, I thought our home (in Pampanga) was safe because Mt. Pinatubo was in another province – Zambales. I was wrong… again.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet, the Mt. Pinatubo eruption is the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. When even more highly gas-charged magma reached Pinatubo’s surface on June 15, the volcano exploded in a cataclysmic eruption that ejected more than 1 cubic mile (5 cubic kilometers) of material. The ash cloud from this climactic eruption rose 22 miles (35 kilometers) into the air.

It started to get dark late in the afternoon. I remembered the roosters crowing. There was no electricity. It was pitch black outside the house. My parents asked me if I wanted to play Scrabble with them. Maybe, it was their way to divert my thinking.

I don’t remember if we finished the game but they started to think about evacuating our home and go to our relatives living far away. With the darkness came ashfall and rain. It was more dangerous to go out of the house driving with no street lights to guide you. Furthermore, rain and ash mixed together created a cement-like mixture which was difficult to remove on the windshields. It was not a good plan to leave.

Then it happened again – Earthquake. The memory of last year became vivid again. It was not just a one-time experience. The earthquakes became frequent.

Photo by Melanie Wasser

Out of fear, our neighbors decided to stay with us at home – the mother and two children. We all huddled up together in the living room by spreading a huge rug and a thick blanket to sleep in.

We ate dinner together in the dining area.We froze and looked at each other when an earthquake was felt. When the tremor stopped, we continued our meal. The quakes became regular, we didn’t bother anymore to stop eating. Imagine eating your dinner but at the same time thinking if it will be your last.

Our parents told us to get some sleep but we couldn’t. Lying down on the blanket in the living area with my playmates, I saw the chandelier swaying like a pendulum while the earthquakes continued. My playmates and I were all noisy chatters but that time we were all quiet, listening, observing what was happening.

During that moment, I thought IT WAS THE END OF THE WORLD. I was asking the same question the previous year. Will I ever be able to reach the day of my birthday alive? I prayed to God in the midst of the tremors I felt. “ Please Lord, make it stop.” Exhausted, I fell asleep at last.

While we were sleeping, my father and a family friend decided to go up the roofs to remove the mixed ash and rain by using shovels. There was a huge possibility that the roofs will collapse because of the weight. There was a storm during that time that caused the continuous rainfall.

I felt relieved to see the morning light the following day. There was no electricity yet but there was daylight. The earthquakes stopped. Looking back, I deeply appreciated it. I saw what looked like sand piled up around the house and the neighbors’ homes as well as on the streets. We came out safe. Others were unfortunate.

The eruption produced high-speed avalanches of hot ash and gas (pyroclastic flows), giant mudflows (lahars), and a cloud of volcanic ash hundreds of miles across.

(Source: https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/1997/fs113-97/)

Many people lost their lives, properties and sources of income. The aftermath of the eruption continued for years because of the lahars. It destroyed numerous homes and farmlands.

At present, the province of Pampanga is an example of the resiliency and courage of Filipinos to rise up out of the disasters. The last time I visited, it is already a metropolis and future site of an international airport.

Never in my wildest imagination will I witness two natural disasters in two consecutive years. Both of them near my birthday.

Yes, of course, I was able to reach the day of my birthday alive and well. Praise God.

Reminiscing these memories made me appreciate my life more. I was able to grow up, get a job, travel and have a family. It is so easy to take for granted things especially when you are busy with responsibilities as an adult.

I was given the opportunity to LIVE… LONGER than the rest who didn’t make it. For that, I am thankful.

lady with raised arms at the beach

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