My Thoughts on Disaster Response Volunteer Work, and the 1976 Earthquake and Tsunami – Kaloy

As I reflect on how I reacted/responded to the recent disasters like Sendong, Pablo, Bohol earthquake and Yolanda, I give thanks to the crisis caused by the Cotabato earthquake and tsunami for teaching me my first lessons in disaster response, and for planting the seed of volunteerism in my heart.

The Moro Gulf  Earthquake and Tsunami of August 17, 1976

>A few minutes after the stroke of midnight on August 17, 1976, a violent earthquake occurred in the island of Mindanao spawning a tsunami that devastated more than 700 kms of coastline bordering Moro Gulf in the North Celebes Sea.

The cities and provinces of Cotabato took the brunt of the earthquake while the tsunami generated cast its doom on the provinces bordering Moro Gulf especially on the shores of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and Pagadian City.

The initial earthquake was widespread and was felt as far as the central Philippine islands of the Visayas. A massive tsunami devastated 700 kilometers of coastline bordering the Moro Gulf in the North Celebes Sea, resulting in destruction and death in the coastal communities of the Sulu Archipelago and southern Mindanao, including Zamboanga City and Pagadian City. At least 5,000 people died during the earthquake and tsunami, with thousands more remaining missing.  Some reports say that as many as 8,000 people lost their lives in total, with ninety percent of all deaths the result of the following tsunami. 1

I can never forget that night, and  the days and weeks that followed, 39 years ago.

The first quake was the stongest and longest. The aftershocks were equally scary as they came with a weird sound as if announcing their arrival.

I looked out the window and saw that Cotabato City was burning. I found out later that many city landmarks either caught fire and/or collapsed – the NDU Auditorium and Science Building, Sultan Hotel and Theater, Sagittarius Hotel, and many others. Many people were trapped under the ruins. Their cries for help continue to haunt me until this day. I also remember the then physically-fit dictator in his black leather jacket personally supervising rescue work.

The city was virtually isolated as the Quirino Bridge connecting the city to the highway to Davao also collapsed.

We also learned a new word: Tsunami, as we found out later that thousands died as tidal waves hit the coastal areas of Linek, Kusiong and even Pagadian.

I wandered aimlessly around the city. I eventually went to NDU, and learned another new term: disaster response volunteer.

Being a transferee and a newcomer in the University, I did not know most of those leading and managing the DR headquarters. I simply approached them and volunteered myself. The first task given to me was to distribute tablets to sanitize drinking water in the evacuation centers, eventually getting “promoted” as part of the DR management team after a few weeks.

It was a life-changing experience for me. I witnessed people helping and caring for each other. I also saw opportunists taking advantage of the misery of others.

I found new friends in my fellow volunteers. These friendships formed amidst the crisis continue to get stronger up to today.

It was also during those times that I discovered my passion for working with and for people. As I reflect on how I reacted/responded to the recent disasters like Sendong, Pablo, Bohol earthquake and Yolanda, I give thanks to the crisis caused by the Cotabato earthquake and tsunami for teaching me my first lessons in disaster response, and for planting the seed of volunteerism in my heart.


1 Wikipedia on the 1976 Moro Gulf Earthquake: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_Moro_Gulf_earthquake