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The quake

By Pet Melliza/ the Beekeeper

A provincial executive dashed to the stairs in fright. She tripped face down and wiped one or two steps of the ladder with her chin. Another employee almost ran on her; to avoid her, he clambered over the steel railing and jumped to the next floor. He limped his way out.

The executive struggled to her feet, wrapped her arms on the torso of another woman. The latter, who had gone to the Capitol to seek financial assistance, slipped out of the provincial executive’s grip by swinging an elbow almost bloodying the former’s  nose.

Both the executive and the limping Jack have not undergone any earthquake drill.

Other than those two incidents, all employees of at the Iloilo Provincial Capitol evacuated unhurt to the car park when a trembler with magnitude of 6.9 Ricther Scale at the epicenter struck noon of February 12.

We were at the legal office, third floor, when the building swayed and shook. The earthquake drill that we did once yearly, for three years now, helped. Every office has a “commander” assigned to shout “duck!” for everybody to hide for safety by sidling against or under a sturdy structure higher than the head at crouching or kneeling position and away from glass windows and panels and  fluorescent lamps. A concrete wall would do and one may stand against it as the quake progresses.

The commander next shouted “cover!” for us to take hold of any object like books to cover our heads with while ducking. Otherwise, use the arms and hands to protect the head. The command “hold!” means stay put for at least 10 seconds. “Clear!” means, the building occupants may now leave in single file to link up with the line of  other employees leading to the common exit passage.

That’s what we did, luckily. I still managed to take shots with my digital cam tucked in my belt. My fright dissipated while I was taking pictures. (my shots were later used by a TV morning show.

My body got heavy which my knees could not hold after reaching the safety of the ground. We did not bother anymore to assemble at the site designated per office earlier during the drills.

When drill master Jerry Bionat, head of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) shouted: “Commanders, report!” Nobody answered other than, “OK lang kami d’i!” (We are fine here!). We just milled around.   Each office has a “coordinator” who is supposed to report on the status of their personnel present, the missing and the injured.

The next thought that came to mind was go to the Iloilo Hall of Justice. The first sight I recognized were RTC Judge Globert Justalero, Prosecutor Vincent Go and Atty. Noel Palomado huddling together. Justalero admitted their evacuation was disorganized, each to its own device to save itself. They never had a single earthquake drill.

After taking pictures at the Hall of Justice, yours truly went back to the Capitol. Employees were itching to go back to their offices to gather their belongings but were barred by Bionat and the guards. “Wait,” he hollered, “nobody enters the building. There will still be aftershocks!” True, seconds later, every body scrambled away from the building as the ground shuddered.

The aftershock followed the first quake 15 minutes later. With that, Bionat allowed the employees to pick their belongings “in five minutes” and go home to return the following morning “as instructed by the governor (Arthur Defensor, Sr.).

Two strong aftershocks were felt seconds after each other at past 6 pm while columnist Peter Jimenea and myself were sipping beer at Tib’s Rock resto in Mandurriao district.

PhilVocs recorded 40 aftershocks by 6 pm, and more followed the next morning. As of this writing (12 noon, February 8), there were aftershocks at predawn and a stronger one followed by 8:40 am which sent occupants of the Capitol and the Hall of Justice scampering.

Capitol employees returned to work but their counterparts at the Hall of Justice were too frightened by the new cracks of their structure that the judges suspended hearings and let employees go home.

Employees doubt their safety at the Hall of Justice from the cracks on its walls.


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