Sunday, July 24, 2011

21 years

It has been 21 years since Monday, July 16, 1990... specifically 4:26pm. I was 11 years old.

First some background.

My family had moved to Baguio City (also known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines) just a couple of weeks earlier. We had just finished a 12 month furlough in Texas and before that had been living in Palawan, Philippines for 9 years (or 8?). There was a church in need of a pastor and my Dad had accepted the call... or... the challenge of helping a hurting church (side note... my parents seem to be called/used a lot for this sort of ministry and I think they are awesome).

Anyway, we rented a cottage on the John Hay Air Base Station. It was primarily used as a R&R camp for those in the service and the DOD and their families. But if space was available than non-military Americans could rent a cottage. *It was a fun place to go for vacation because the weather was so much cooler than the rest of the country. They had putt-putt golf, a golf course, restaurants that made American food, a baseball field, an ice cream shop, bowling alley, and some fun hiking trails.

*I digress.

So my parents finally find a house to rent that would fit our family's needs. That night, July 16th, they were going to sign the contract. But before that Dad was on a short day trip down the mountain to take care of some business (another crazy story... but that will probably stay with our family. Seriously.... amazed we didn't call it quits in those days. But my parents showed us daily Who we knew was in control). Sorry... I get off topic so easy.

So I was playing with my brothers outside the cottage down a steep hill. I was tired of playing and wanted to go in and a get a snack. Mom told the boys to play on the cottage steps where she could see/hear them. I had just sat down to watch tv and I felt a vibration. Not too weird since these cottages were built on (I think) "pier and beam" (you could feel just about anyone's foot steps). Well, the vibration got stronger and Mom yells for us to get out that it's an earthquake. I remember seeing the tiny fridge door fling open and stuff was falling out. Mom ran to grab the boys and into the grass area between our cottage and the next. I was running behind her toward the door when the tv fell and I had to jump over it.

It is etched in my head forever. My mom has her arms around my two younger brothers bodies and my youngest brother (he was only 6 or 7 yrs. old--Nate's age right now) was upset and asked, "Why was God shaking the earth?" The ground actually rolled like ocean waves. Cracks started appearing in roads. Trees falling. Windows breaking. People screaming and crying. When it stopped we got up and ran across the street to the baseball field with everyone else that was coming out of their cottages. What a scene.

This earthquake was registered as a 7.7 on the richter scale (some say it was 7.8 and even 8.0). It lasted 45 seconds.

As the hours went by the US military started setting up tents, water and food stations were in place, and medical care was being given. This was before the whole convenience of cell phones, so we had no way to tell my Dad that we were ok or to find out if HE was ok! Sometime during the night or early the next morning (my memory is a little foggy on some of the time frame from here on out) the Hayes family (they had lived and ministered in Baguio for years) found us. Their daughter and a few people from their church were going to drive thru the city looking for families from their church and offer assistance. I remember my mom letting me go (she was helping care for Mrs. Hayes's mother and keeping a lookout for Dad or checking in with the base information for news). People were walking around dazed, crying, confused, hurt, scared, and then there were the looters....

There were tremors all night long.

I googled some photos (disclaimer: not my pics at all!). My Dad has a lot too... the most chilling ones are the photos he has of windows with sheets tied together so people could escape.

Some people were even found ALIVE after nearly 2 weeks. My memory seems to think one of the people was from our church.

For my 11 year old eyes.... this was incredible. The destruction and devastation was almost unbelievable.

I honestly don't remember how many days it was.... but I do remember that when my Dad did finally make it up the mountain (he walked most of it along with the men he traveled with) it was like those movie scenes (one of the few things we as a family can laugh about) where the woman and man run to each other thru the field of flowers and into each others arms.... except that the field of flowers was a baseball field with tents, cots, bonfires, and people. There were tears and words spoken.

Everything seemed to immediately get better because our family was all together again.

Eventually those that didn't have a home to go back to (assuming it wasn't gone or condemned) or weren't residents of Baguio were forced to evacuate. Our family boarded a huge helicopter and with the back open.... we took off from Baguio and were flown to another base. I remember my brother getting really sick and needing to throw up. Many people did... it was freaky flying in a chopper and the back of it just open! I've never been in a helicopter since and don't care to ever be in one again. Then there was a long bus ride to Manila. Family friends and fellow missionaries took our family of 5 in for.... well, at the time we didn't know how long (ended up being 3 weeks).

My parents made numerous trips to Baguio to house hunt (you really had to be cautious what you looked at for renting because there was so much damage.... was the realtor/landlord being honest or just trying to rent out a house for money?). There was also a church that my Dad was now pastoring and members to check on. A church building that was damaged... beyond repair.

The house we were supposed to sign on was no longer available because the landlord and his family needed it to live in (the new house they were building for themselves was condemned). But we did find a nice house and eventually moved in and called it home. Our church took a very, very long time to piece back together.

We had aftershocks that were registering 5.3 at times... some more/less. The tremors carried on for years. I remember sitting at the dinner table and feeling one. I took my cue from my parents who stopped mid-chew as we all held our breaths... and then noticed my youngest brother was already outside..... ketchup bottle in hand. We joined him and tried to make light of it all.... but our stomachs were in knots too. Eventually, it all seemed to just fade and life as we knew it was in full force.

I love Baguio City and loved growing up there. I miss it very much. So that is how another chapter of our life began there.... 21 years ago.


Some facts:

This happened on a Monday. The Philippine school year had already started (Summer break was end of March to beginning of June), but we were going to another missionary's "church/school" and their school staff also worked on Sundays in the church. So Monday was a day off. We went to school Tuesday-Friday from 8am-4pm. Thankful this was on a Monday... no school.

Baguio sits on approximately 7 fault lines.

Thousands were killed and more than that wounded.

Less than a year later the region went thru another difficulty-- Mt. Pinatubo erupted. Baguio still received lots of ash and I remember seeing a constant fog and "dust" on everything... plants, cars, etc.

Articles for more info:
You can also read some articles here, here, here, and here.


Jeanie said...

Remember well WHY your daddy was down the mountain and WITH who. I was in a tricycle with Becky when it hit, Brian at home with our house help and Gary out of town as well. Your Dad called me soon after to see if we were ok and I was able to make a phone to Manila to tell Gary we were ok before the phones went dead. (pre-cellphone days). Gary could not make it back that night as it would have been too far to walk and so my kids and I slept outside since too many tremors still going on. It is something we will also never forget and hope to never experience again.

The Hagens said...

as soon as you gave the date, i knew exactly what you were talking about. We were in Manila, just came back from furlough. Ended up hiking over the mountain pass to get up to Aritao. Dealt with all the aftershocks there. Crazy days.