NEWS FROM SUGARLANDIA

SURVIVING THE QUAKE, COPING WITH THE TREMORS by Julius D. Mariveles

A YAWNING CRACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS ASPHALT ROAD can be seen in the village of Maluya in Guihulngan City, Oriental Negros, one of the affected areas during the 6.9 magnitude quake | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

BARANGAY BUENAVISTA, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental – Mercedes Ordinisa was already dead when the quake struck.

She was 52. She died of cancer.

Her relatives scampered for safety during her wake when the Monday earthquake struck.

She was left alone in their house in the sub-village of Moog, barangay Planas, the place where a landslide buried at least 23 people. The next day, she was brought to the nearby village of Buenavista.

In Buenavista, 11-year-old Jojo (not his real name), was alone with his 6-year-old sister during the tremor.

He scooped up his sister, ran out of their house and passed out on the road.

CHILD'S DOODLE, QUAKE'S CRACK | A damaged wall of a house in Buenavista village, Guihulngan City after the powerful 6.9 quake struck Monday | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

At the nearby elementary school, Mary Jane Bollozos, a teacher, crawled on all fours with her remaining pupils who were inside their classroom, their shock amplified when they saw a part of the wall crack during the tremor, the strongest they have experienced in this sleepy city.

Mercedes was buried Wednesday afternoon. It was not certain if the cemetery caretaker had her tomb finished because like any residents here, the mason ran for his life during the quake.

Jojo is now showing signs of trauma. Wednesday morning, he felt weak, dizzy and was about to faint again when a strong aftershock struck in the morning.

Mary Jane’s work, like most of those in this village, had to be put on hold. She now lives in a makeshift tent along with her son and other family members as the ground continues to shake.

Life is already hard in this farming community.

It has become harder because of the quake even if its hardy residents have always known the meaning of fear and uncertainty.

STATUETTES OF SAINTS in a makeshift altar in one of the evacuation centers in Guihulngan City | For more pictures of the quake, click on this link http://www.interaksyon.com/aftershocks | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

From the grinding poverty to the raging battles between government forces and rebels to the possibility of being forced out of their homes and farms by a mining company, people here have faced the worst possible things in life but nothing, they say, has prepared them for the devastation of the quake.

FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM GUIHULNGAN CITY, click on AFTERSHOCKS: Coping and trembling after the February 6 quake

Like the city to which it belongs, Buenavista is a laid-back place, unknown to most people until the deadly 6.9 quake that struck Monday that was generated by what could be a previously unknown fault.

They say it is better to be struck by a typhoon than a quake.

“At least PAGASA can tell you if a storm has gone away or not,” Marilou Alangilan said in the Bisayan dialect as she fixed their kitchen-cum-bedroom just outside their house that is mostly made of wood.

With a population of more than 3,000, Buenavista’s population suddenly swelled when people from the lowlands rushed to the village located around 3.5 kilometers upland from the city proper.

“They think it is safer here than in the city proper,” village chief Romeo Alipan said about the surge of evacuees who trooped to the barangay.

Like in most parts of the city, Buenavista appears to have become a tent village as residents fear going back to their homes because of the aftershocks.

It rained hard on the evening of the second day just after I arrived at the place.

FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM GUIHULNGAN CITY, click on AFTERSHOCKS: Coping and trembling after the February 6 quake

NOT TAKING CHANCES, NOT HAVING SLEEP

“We don’t want to take chances, my wife is five-months pregnant,” Cherry Ricablanca, 36, said as we take turns holding up the plastic tent where he, his family and in-laws were staying.

It was fortunate, he said, that the quake took place 12 noon, when most employees of the City Hall were out for lunch breaks.

His wife, Rachel, is an employee of the local treasurer’s office. He was in Bais City when the quake took place.

“I was so afraid about my family; I immediately called up my wife who, fortunately, was out of their office when it happened,” he said.

Their boy, six-year-old Ross Daniel, was at home with his grandmother, Anita Bustamante, and an epileptic 23-year-old uncle, Ri-an.

We were together that night inside their makeshift tent made of three wooden beds that was arranged to accommodate seven people.

“We always have dinner early since electricity was cut off; it’s really difficult to cook in the dark,” another Bustamante, Richard, said as he handed me a cup of hot coffee and two pieces of bread.

They volunteered to cook dinner for me but I politely declined the offer, saying that there was no need to eat at night and besides, it would be too much of a bother for them.

At night, it seems as if a religious exposition is taking place as evacuees say the rosary while clutching and displaying images of the Santo Niño, the Virgin Mary and statues or statuettes of saints who, like the people, have to make do with their makeshift altars.

The moon shone bright when the rains ceased.

After a few minutes, a steady stream of people was seen from the Buenavista Elementary School as they transferred to the highway that cuts across the village.

The playground was flooded. Their backs were getting wet.

One lane of the highway soon became a giant bedroom as folding beds, bamboo benches and beds were placed on it for the infants and children to sleep on, one of them Cecilia Alvarez’ five-year-old boy who was having a fever that night.

“There’s no medicine available, the drugstores are closed,” Cecilia said, desperation apparent in her voice.

I joined a group of youngsters sharing a pitcher of tuba or coconut wine.

Pangdula shock sang aftershock (to relieve the shock caused by the aftershock),” one of them, a 16-year-old who was from Negros Occidental, said.

He introduced himself and his cousins who were children of an Army officer assigned in La Carlota City, Negros Occidental.

They kept asking how long the aftershocks would last. I told them I don’t know. Even PHIVOLCS cannot estimate it yet.

They have not surfed the net nor checked their Facebook pages for two days because there was no electricity, they said.

Then there was that sound. It was like a cross between a growl and a rumble, possibly from the vibrating tin roofs or the plastic sheets that were made into tents or the steel gates that vibrated or possibly from the earth itself as it heaved and buckled as another aftershock hit.

I looked at my watch. It was 9:14 p.m.

It lasted for only several seconds but shouts for God –  “Diyos  nga amahan,” “Jesus,” “Lord,” “Diyos ko” – in whatever form or dialect rang out through what was once relative silence as people either squatted, lay or sat on the road.

“It was worse on the first night, the aftershocks came almost after every five minutes,” the 16-year-old teener said as he recounted that they had almost no sleep since then.

Three minutes later, another aftershock followed.

Same sounds. Same shouts.

I went back to the tent of the Ricablancas by midnight and slept on a five-inch wide wood and bamboo bench, most comfortable given the circumstances.

The earth shook almost every hour.

But the strongest came around 4:40 a.m.

And I decided to sleep no more.

I joined the menfolk on the street; some were preparing coffee, some were smoking, talking about where to buy food or water that their families needed.

Some had already started to sell their animals, most of them suckling piglets.

“We have to stop working and tend to our wives and children,” Jorex Camporedondo, who drives a motorcycle or habal habal, said while cradling his six-month-old Tejey.

It is not only the aftershocks that kept the men from working in the ricefields or driving the habal habals, it was also the high price of gasoline, the lack of food and water that their families need.

Gasoline sold for P100 a liter two days after the quake as gasoline stations closed down. One, which the residents said was owned by a ranking local official, sold it at the “rationed” price of P100 liter per person per day.

An enterprising vendor sold it bootlegged at P100 a liter.

“There are a lot of expenses involved and I get it from far away Vallehermoso,” said the man who identified himself as JR Dumaboc.

Whatever the complaints about the prices, no one was there to regulate it that day. And the consumers are not complaining.

Dumaboc, who was selling it only several blocks away from the police station, was making a killing as motorcycle owners queued up to buy from him.

Water had to be sourced from springs that have become murky after the quake. Even if you had the money, bottled water was not available at the city proper as the lack electricity forced purifying stores to stop operation.

I made my way to the Buenavista Elementary School where Donabelle Libradilla spent another sleepless night on the quadrangle.

Lack of food was the number one problem, she said as she told me how miserable their situation has become, imploring, almost begging to let the local government know what was happening to them.

“We only had coffee for several days, we have no more rice,” she said.

Even the school’s botanical garden was not spared as the residents scavenged for food. Fresh ginger was promptly brewed and mixed with sugar.

Over at the sari-sari store and coffeeshop owned by Evelyn Delantes, Gregorio Tabanao had his first cup and, most likely, only cup of coffee for that day.

“Supplies have ran out, we cannot buy anything from the city proper as the department stores have closed,” Evelyn told me as his son, Danny, ate breakfast consisting of boiled rice and fried bulad or salted fish that is a staple for most residents, earthquake or no earthquake.

At the mini-market, a boy rode his bicycle across rows of empty stalls as women and children gathered in front of another kapehan while the menfolk prepare breakfast.

It was now day three after the quake but supplies or water has yet to reach this village a mere 15 minutes away from the city proper.

“(Mayor Ernesto Reyes) promised to give us four sacks of rice while the vice mayor pledged another sack and water for us,” the village chief said as he prepared to ride on his motorcycle to leave for the munisipyo, “but it has been several days since and help has yet to arrive.”

Another strong aftershock hit the village past 9 a.m. that day, while most were still having their breakfast.

The tension was greater than the night before.

Children cried, their mothers, too.

Someone led a rosary by the roadside and people – men, women and children clutching and hugging each other – prayed that they be spared.

Meanwhile, at Planas, the 23 missing who are believed to have been buried by tons of mud have yet to be found.

There was no rescue operation yet on the second day but Marilou Alangilan, who is the local coordinator for the partylist group Anakpawis, has been to the place several times already.

In fact, she has already drawn up a list of those who are missing.

Marilou prepares to leave for Planas once more.

There is work to be done, people need to be helped, she said.

With government still wobbly from the quake and trying to find its way in the dark, the villagers of Buenavista might have, in the meantime, only themselves and the sense of community to rely on as they continue to cope with the effects of the trembling earth.

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About Hannah|JuliusMariveles

English instructor and broadcast journalist

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