Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Philippines on two wheels - part two

Yesterday, less than forty-eight hours after my arrival, we had the worst earthquake in this part of the Philippines for twenty years. We're about 85 kilometres (53 miles) from the 7.2 magnitude quake's centre on Bohol. The death toll's approaching a hundred and will certainly be much higher. 

(Note: a late November check suggests a final figure of more than two hundred fatalities. Four later died after the quake opened a sinkhole. Figures vary, but hundreds of thousands were left homeless.) 

I was readying breakfast and, no surprise, at first confused. It sounded like a large motor had gone berserk. Of course, as the coffee and museli swayed, I realized what was happening. Running for the door, I heard Gord yell for me from his nearby home. We all - Gord, his partner Mae and son Mark - safely met in the garden while the ground rolled for nearly a minute. Good thing Gord and I weren't on his motorcycle when the quake hit. That would have been a ride ...

We're by the shore, so the first concern was a tsunami. Fortunately, power stayed on and we were able to check the tsunami alert system on the internet. Now comes the stuff of disbelief. As I first looked at the U.S. Geological Survey website, it read, 'Due to a lapse in Federal funding, the USGS Hazards Program has suspended most of its operations.' Good grief (actually, that's not exactly what I was thinking), there are no warning sirens here and the US government shutdown means we won't know if a tidal wave's on its way. 

Fortunately, despite an intense urge to run for the hills and not look at my iPad, I had the sense to read the next few lines. Because of its importance, a reassuring - no tsunami - report came through fairly quickly. You can see the '1' over the Philippines.

Apart from so many dead, historic buildings have collapsed, including a magnificent, centuries-old Spanish church on Bohol that Gord, Mark and I once visited. The belfry at the cathedral closest to us in Dumaguete, partly built in the 1760s, was damaged with cracks and large chunks falling off. 

A half-hearted, protective fence, borrowed from the roads department, has been put up.

That hasn't dissuaded people with more faith than I from continuing to light candles at the tower's base.

Nearby, all I can find is a few squiffy electrical polls and broken windows.

However, people continue to be unnerved by aftershocks.

Odd to be experiencing (in a minor way) a significant disaster rather than reporting on it. Will be interesting to see how the various agencies here handle the aftermath. Not terribly impressive so far, but, of course, it is a Third World country. 

So, that's the earthquake news. We're fortunate to be okay.