The sky was on all corners blue, as calm as a poet’s lake at midnight. The wind was no more boisterous as a fairy’s subtle cry at birth. I remember it vividly. Sitting on a ramshackle chair inside an empty classroom, I took the time off, as I was wont to do, to read a novel by Franz Kafka while enjoying a stick of Marlboro
I was about halfway past the middle of the book when I felt a slow yet sudden wave of movement rush easily across the room. I liken the feeling to a man standing on a small boat as a huge wave billows under it. Then a stronger jolt, followed by a long rumbling joggle that seemed like two boulders crashing against each other. The concrete ground began rising and falling in quick successive intervals, thereafter swaying as the seconds passed, hurtling chairs and tables onto the ground. Standing on one’s two feet was difficult enough that it took me a good three minutes to scram out the room, which was about a mere arm span away.
By the time I steered past the door, pandemonium had spread across the school. Much of the students were running and crouching on the pavement as wave after wave after wave of movement scuttled back and forth like gargantuan ripples crisscrossing on an unsuspecting pond. The air was thick with screams and cries for help, drowned only by the roaring menace that was a magnitude 7.8 Luzon earthquake. It was early July 1990.
On the second or third floor of an adjacent building, fluorescent bulbs started crashing as people slipped and fell in a frantic attempt to escape the earth’s fury. A long concrete gash appeared as the outdoor basketball court was ripped in two—right down the middle. God seemed to be nowhere as the ground swelled and fell, slanted and swayed frantically to release tectonic tension. What felt like the beginning of the end of days lasted for a mere minute or so. Roughly two or three aftershocks were felt till all became quiet.
Later in the day, the news said that a hotel in Baguio, the Hyatt Terraces Hotel, had collapsed, killing nearly a hundred guests and hotel personnel. The temblor was said to have produced a 125-kilometer ground rupture that went all the way from Dingalan, Aurora to Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija. Close to 2,000 had died in what is now considered as one of the strongest quakes to hit Luzon.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.