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Lest we forget: The 1990 Luzon Earthquake

Located along the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” and having five major fault lines, the Philippines is no stranger to earthquakes and is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. On July 16, 1990, an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale struck northern and central Luzon Island in the Philippines. This powerful quake resulted in several collapsed buildings, left an estimated $369-million worth of damages, and a total of 2,412 people dead.

Among the areas severely affected were the mountain city of Baguio; the coastal areas in La Union; Dagupan city in Pangasinan; and the central plain area--primarily Cabanatuan city in Nueva Ecija and mountainous Nueva Vizcaya. The epicenter of the quake, which struck at 4:26 p.m., was north of Manila in the Nueva Ecija province. According to reports, the shaking went on for nearly a full minute. Collapsing buildings were the main cause of damage and death. Many people were injured and some even died in stampedes trying to flee from multi-story buildings.

One of the most memorable scenes from the quake was the collapse of the Liwag Building of the Christian College of the Philippines (CCP). Approximately 250 students and teachers were trapped inside. Many were saved due to heroic rescue efforts but some victims who did not die in the collapse were found dead later from dehydration because they were not pulled out in time. Baguio is a major tourist destination and the principal trade and educational center in the Cordillera region. All types of buildings, including several resort hotels in Baguio, suffered tremendous damage. Damage to homes and the occurrence of many aftershocks caused most of the city’s 100,000 residents to set up camps in open spaces in the city and sleep outdoors that evening. Workers pulled bodies from the demolished buildings for days but rescue efforts were hampered severely. The city was inaccessible by land because of landslides and inaccessible by air, except to helicopters, because of damage at the airport. Hundreds of motorists were stranded on the roads and a chemical factory fire outside of Baguio also caused terrible damage. The Tuba gold and copper mine in the area lost 30 workers when a mine collapsed.

Sitting on at least seven fault lines, Baguio is now listed as one of the most risk-prone cities in Asia. Aside from the risk of earthquakes, the area’s high annual rainfall increases the likelihood of deadly landslides. The area suffered another disaster less than a year later when Mount Pinatubo erupted. Some geologists believe there’s a connection between the two events. The earthquake left not only massive damage and casualties but also lessons about disaster readiness. Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Director Dr. Renato Solidum said the 1990 earthquake left four valuable lessons: the public needs to respond properly during earthquakes, hazards and their effects should be simulated, building codes should be implemented properly, and land use should be carefully planned.

By Alyanna Tabucanon



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