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What Is It About Earthquakes

…that when they start, sometimes you cannot even be sure that it is an earthquake to begin with. That was exactly what happened just a while back at this restaurant one of the coaches and I went to for a post-training meal before heading for home.

We had ordered at the counter and were chatting idly while waiting for the food to arrive. I had my left elbow on the table; while my right was resting on the back of my chair. When the rocking movement started, my first instinct was to look under the table to see if my companion was kicking at the foot of the table.

He was not. I looked around and noticed that the lamps around the restaurant were swaying. My eyes were drawn by the sound of glass clattering against glass to the door just ten feet away from where we sat. I could see the glass doors swaying against each other. It was only then that I knew for sure that there was an earthquake.

“Ramdam mo?” I asked my companion. Initially, he did not seem to understand what I was asking him about. “Lindol,” I said simply.

The waiter was arriving with my barbecue and eggplant ensalada. “Ramdam mo?” this time, it was my companion who passed on my question to the waiter. The waiter’s face betrayed that he had not even felt the shaking.

The quake was, in all honesty, really quite mild; and not very prolonged, either. Intensity 2 or 3, I guessed out loud; 4 at most. My demeanor was nonchalant; and even as I tried to ascertain if there was indeed an earthquake, my eyes alertly scanned the mall outside the restaurant through the glass wall to see if anything out of the ordinary would develop.

The quake ended before my adrenalin levels could hit critical point. On the outside, I was totally relaxed and unperturbed. Inside, my senses were heightened. Not only were my eyes busily scanning around the restaurant and the mall; my feet and arms were also firmly anchored on the floor and table trying to feel if the shaking was getting any worse. I was, in fact, primed to flee in a split second if the need arose.

When I got home, the first thing I naturally did was to go to the Internet to see if there was any breaking news. Indeed, Philvocs was quick to report, a 5.7 magnitude quake occurred around 6:37 PM of tectonic origin with the epicenter placed 12 kilometers northeast of Lubang Island. It was felt as an Intensity 4 tremor in Batangas, Tagaytay, Talisay and even as far as Manila and Marikina.

Any other time, I would have quickly forgotten all about it. However, I believe most everyone will agree that these days is not any other time at all. I know I wrote last week that the spate of quakes since the year turned are not seen by experts to be any indication of anything cataclysmic to come; but the fact remains that hearing and reading about them – not to mention seeing live images of the ghastly aftermath beamed live by satellites – almost as soon as they end can be definitely unnerving. People just naturally become jumpy.

Also, when one considers that major quakes with horrendous consequences have been occurring almost on a regular basis all around us – in Indonesia, in New Zealand, in Japan – I suppose many of us are silently wondering if a big one is due somewhere near and when.

By the way, prior to this evening’s shaker, there was a 6.1 quake up north in Isabela just yesterday. Of course, with disaster preparedness – or the lack of it – hitting the front pages of the major papers and Philvocs going on like we all needed to know all about the Marikina fault line due some major movement, can anyone be blamed for being jumpy when the floor upon which one’s feet rest begins to shake?

In the story Insignificant, I wrote how the 1990 quake which reduced Baguio City to rubbles happened to be the most singularly hair-raising natural phenomenon I had ever had the misfortune to endure. There was, in fact, another almost equally hair-raising experience in 1988; albeit the quake itself was long ago consigned under an ocean of forgottenness.

I was at the Sheraton Hotel in Malate where we were billeted during a FIFA Coaching Course. Anyone who has gone through such a course knows how grueling they are. The coaches themselves are made to undergo the drills that they will eventually ask their own players to undergo.

I was alone in my hotel room on the hotel’s sixteenth floor and lying on the bed trying to repair my muscle tissues – that is euphemism for I was aching all over – when the walls of the room started to shake first almost imperceptibly and then as though an oversized King Kong had grabbed the whole hotel and was shaking it in utter rage.

I was lying prostrate on the bed when the walls and everything inside the room started to shake violently. I could feel the blood draining from my face and a chill running down my spine from sheer terror. Curiously, I could not move a muscle! My mind, though, was racing.

Should I run to the elevator? Bad idea, I thought; the cables could snap. Should I take the stairs? Bad idea; the stairs could crumble. Should I scamper and hide under a table? Bad idea; all the tables were small. Should I make a parachute out of the bed sheet and jump out the window? Bad idea; that only worked in cartoons!

Thankfully, after what seemed like an eternity, the shaking stopped. The quake began and ended with me prostrate on my hotel bed. God only knows what I would have become had the floors started to cave in. You would not be reading this, surely.

For the record, the newspapers reported the following day that the quake was no more than Intensity 4. That was utter horse dung as far as I was concerned! Of course, the Intensity 4 was measured at ground level. I was on the sixteenth floor…

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