There were not a few people here in Lianga who were of the opinion that many residents of the town and the many other coastal communities along the Pacific coast of Surigao del Sur province had overreacted and panicked unnecessarily in response to the general tsunami alert issued as a result of the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck the South American country of Chile on February 27. I was one of them.
Of course, I was fortunate to have access to the latest internet and cable television news updates on a regular basis and thus was aware that the tsunami alert was just that, a warning and not necessarily a confirmation of the actual existence of "killer" waves created by the Chilean seismic event supposedly speeding across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and on their way to the shorelines of many Asian countries like the Philippines. I was also aware that the alert was eventually rescinded and lifted through trusted and reliable contacts.
Many people living, however, in the eastern portions of the country deemed specially vulnerable to a major tsunami event and directly in possible harm's way were not so lucky. And all, what they had to depend on were mostly wild rumors, exaggerated reports and outright false warnings coming from dubious sources.
So if many residents of Lianga, therefore, and its surrounding towns did panic and flee their homes during the height of the tsunami scare then they can now be, upon hindsight, be excused for acting so precipitously. After all, they are people who have an intimate appreciation of the destructive power of what was, in the not so distant past, used to be called "tidal" waves or surges. Many of them, in fact, have first hand recollections of incidents in the past when the sea with which they have to live with had manifested its awesome potential for causing massive damage to their lives and property.
There is somewhat of a dichotomy by which Lianga folks, like most people who live by the sea and other huge bodies of water, regard their coastal waters. On one hand, the sea is often the very reason why their communities came to be and why they continue to exist at all. It is the source of bountiful food for their tables and many of the raw materials essential to their local economies. It is also an indestructible open highway that connects them to other communities and distant places for trade and commerce. Its very existence, its many moods and states, often defines the cycles and rhythm of their lives.
Yet the sea is not always a benign friend and provider, it has its fickle, arbitrary and destructive moods. And when it chooses to do so, it can be deadly and massively malignant, capable of using its almost limitless power to wreck havoc and mayhem, relentlessly venting its wanton fury on man and his creations, the communities he has built upon its shores and the boats and ships that he uses to sail its waters.
No wonder the ancients worship the sea and the ocean, personifying them as powerful beings and deities with awesome powers yet burdened with human traits, imperious and regal yet also capricious, moody and jealous entities who were as quick to severely punish humans who displeased them in the same manner that they can be abundantly generous to those who honor them.
The older generations in Lianga do not have a local equivalent of Poseidon, the ancient Greek's (also a seafaring people) god of the sea, but the older folk and the local fishermen always grudgingly speak of the sea as akin to a capricious personification of one aspect of Mother Nature and how this somewhat sanguinary quasi-deity needs to appeased periodically with the sacrifice of the lives of innocent victims in order to tame its basically savage nature.
When I was a young lad in the early 1980's, I once witnessed a tsunami like wave hit Lianga one cloudy, rainy morning. From the far horizon the huge wave, some 3 meters or so high (puny by true tsunami standards) first looked like a dark line of speeding mist. The line gradually grew into a wall of water that stretched the whole breadth of the sea and seemed to silently race towards the town's sea wall and reclamation area just beyond the main street and the old public market.
The many bystanders perched on top of the concrete dike, myself included, watched mesmerized as the wave swept closer only realizing at the last moment the grave danger we were all in. We all turned and ran frantically for the safety of the old public market desperately trying to outrun the massive hump of storm-tossed waters.
The wave hit the sea wall with a thundering crash of tons of swirling surf that covered the more than 100 meters of empty ground between the concrete walls of the sea dike and old market building. The water then quickly receded sucking back to the sea everything within its grasp. It was a miracle that no one was seriously injured or lost in that incident.
A similar wave later on pummeled the reinforced concrete wall my father had put up to protect the backyard of the house from the sea and easily knocked it down, reducing it to a broken mass of stone and twisted steel. The explosive force of the wave sent shock waves that ripped through and shook the family house to its very foundations.
A real tsunami would have been more than many times as destructive and could have come without warning even in apparently good weather and calm, sunny skies. But experiences like the ones above tend to burn deep into the collective memories of the local folks. They do not easily forget such things.
Of course, a week after the tsunami scare people like me can run out of air telling others "I told you so" countless of times. We can even laugh a bit at the expense of those who must have spent at least one harrowing night and a whole anxious day in the evacuation centers endlessly wondering when the calamity they so feared would strike and what would happen to the homes and belongings they have left hurriedly behind if and when it does.
A bit gullible and more easily misled these poor folks may be but they did what was, from their prespective, the only sane thing to do under the circumstances - to run quickly as fast as they could with all their loved ones and valuables to the safety of higher and safer ground, frantically seeking refuge where it can be found; certain as hell that not do do so would be to foolishly challenge the might and power of the ocean and nature gone temporarily mad and hellbent on bringing total destruction and annihilation to those foolish enough to stand either idly or stubbornly on their way.