Thursday, September 6, 2012

Shaken Again

It started with the faintest hint of shudder.  I remember I was sitting in front of my computer, eyes on the monitor, and trolling through Google News, since I was not able to watch television the whole day.  I looked up instinctively and as I turned around to check what was wrong, the shaking suddenly grew stronger.

Earthquake! The tremors became more violent, certainly the strongest I had ever felt in my entire life and as the walls vibrated and the windows panels of my room in the first floor of our house in Lianga started to jiggle in earnest, my eyes involuntarily turned to the time display on the task bar of the computer monitor.  It was about 10 minutes to nine in the evening of the last day of August just a week ago and, in those harrowing seconds that seemed to drag on endlessly, I had a mental image of myself still frozen in a sitting position, fingers still on the computer keyboard and seemingly waiting for the house to fall down on me.

The shaking went on for more than a minute, ebbing and gaining strength in a cycle as if a series of underground sea waves were pounding and crashing through the bedrock underneath Lianga and still I sat there still immobile and still.  Then it finally subsided and as everything grew still. It was only then when I managed to shake myself loose and despite a sudden queasy feeling in my stomach as if I just came off a roller coaster ride, I jumped up to check on everyone else in the house.

Everyone, of course, was okay including my 75 year old mother who was in her second floor bedroom when the tremors started. Lianga was rattled, upset, agitated, literally and figuratively shook up but unharmed. Like some some malignant plague that merely passed by swftly through the town, the quake did not claim victims or cause any major damage but the intimations of what could have happened, if the seismic event had been a little stronger and had persisted for a little while longer, did not fail to  make a lot of the people here realize that for the nth time, Lianga, like many of its sister communities along the eastern coast of Mindanao, was spared from the destructive effects of a purely random act of nature that could have leveled it to the ground.

The tsunami scare that followed in the aftermath of the August 31 quake was certainly as intense as the previous ones that Lianga had to endure in recent years (see previous posts here, here and here).  Many residents here packed up their valuables, locked up their homes and sought refuge in higher ground, which in Lianga by popular consensus was the elevated area around the comprehensive high school in the inland Tigis area.

My mother and I including our companions in the house did not evacuate and chose to sit things out and wait for more definitive news.  The television was kept on, cellphones kept within hand reach, the garage door opened and the car made ready for a quick getaway if there was really a need to. 

We were gratified to learn before midnight that the alert had been called off but that did not mean that we were right to stay while others were needlessly panicking.  If tsunami waves had indeed came, thank God they did not, we might have not been able to get out in time and the many others who had already sought refuge earlier would be the ones shaking their heads at our hardheadedness and stupidity in the face of what most believed, based on initial information, was a disaster that was not only probable but imminent.

If there is one thing that really bothered me about the events of the night of August 31, it was the fact that much of the panic and uncertainty that followed the Samar quake was the same panic and uncertainty that followed in the aftermath of the several tsunami alerts Lianga had to go through in the past.  It brings to the fore once more the failure of the local government to provide clear and definitive contingency measures that the people here can follow and rely on with confidence in the advent of a similar unfortunate yet unavoidable event in the future.

I have voiced this concern on many occasions, together with many other concerned Lianga residents, to the present crop of municipal officials and yet virtually nothing has been done to even discuss thoroughly this issue.  The obvious impression created (and I do hope that impression is wrong) is that Mayor Roy Sarmen and his administration either is too lazy or it does not care one iota about the safety of his constituents in the event of a truly disastrous seismic and tsunami event in Lianga or whatever calamity, whether natural or man-made, that may befall it.

In the aftermath of such an unfortunate situation, common sense tells us that lives CAN be saved and property damage CAN be clearly mitigated by proper contingency planning and a disaster preparedness plan that local people can easily follow and depend on.  Much of the panic and needless hysteria that was born out of confusion, the lack of adequate and accurate sources of information, and a clear guide of what to do could be largely avoided.

The probability is not remote that in the future Lianga could finally be on the receiving end of a major earthquake or tsunami event.  The Philippines is located on a area of the world noted for seismic activity and our town is a coastal town facing unprotected the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean.   It has been extremely lucky so far to have experienced nothing more serious that a rude shaking now and then and several instances of unwarranted and misplaced panic brought about by tsunami warnings that may not have come true but were well meaning just the same.

Whatever the future holds, this town must be always ready and be prepared for all eventualities.  There are no second chances for those who have been warned so many times and yet decide to just stand by and do nothing.

If our leaders at the municipal hall choose to continue not to care about or to get involved in planning how to the community deals with the next calamitous event that may really hit the town hard then nothing will have changed and it will be like as it has always been in the past. When the sirens wail and disaster finally comes to Lianga, it will have to be, as it has always been, every man for himself.

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