We were in Magsaysay town (Davao del Sur), on our way to Tulunan (North Cotabato) to distribute food packs when the 6.5 earthquake this morning struck. It so happened we were in a stretch of road where there were several houses. We saw panicked women running out, dragging children behind them. A woman cried uncontrollably, tears and snivel flowing together. An old woman scraped her knee in her panic to get out. All of them were scampering to cross the street where no structures could fall on them and hurt them.
The quake lasted for only a few seconds but it gave me a lifetime worth of lessons on how an earthquake could impact an individual and community. It’s unlike a typhoon which is forecasted, the details from strength of wind to speed and track are known beforehand. Earthquakes on the other hand you don’t know. And you also don’t know how many aftershocks if any would follow. In short you don’t know when it will start and when it will end.
Even during distribution of food packs in Magbok, Tulunan, some mothers were tightly clutching their children’s hands, saying the children want to be near them when another quake occurs. Obviously the adults also want to be near the kids when the dreaded quake comes again.
That feeling of not having control over what will happen, that sense of helplessness, are partly what makes earthquakes worse than most calamities. Many of those I spoke with said they now hardly sleep, ready to bolt to safety at the slightest tremor, real or imagined. The quake areas are now dotted with blue makeshift tents where people sleep, too afraid to stay inside their houses. Even our hotel has guests asleep on the sofas in the lobby. And throughout the day, people I was with would suddenly stop, fearfully gauging if the earth had moved again.
Since then I have been asking myself: How best to help them? How do you bring back the feeling of safety and control?
I wanted to hug the woman who cried so hard. She spoke in Cebuano and explained in between sobs her fears. I didn’t fully understand her words but I understood what she was saying.
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