PERSONAL ESSAY: The 1976 tsunami was a life-changing experience

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/17 August) — I can never forget that night, and the days and weeks that followed.

The first quake was the strongest 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 (Notre Dame University) Auditorium and Science Building, Sultan Hotel and Theater, Saggitarius 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 tsunami 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 (DR) 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 somehow give credit 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. (Kaloy Manlupig was born in Cotabato City where he grew up. He was a student at Cotabato High School during the war between government and Moro National Liberation Front. He was a student at Notre Dame University when the tsunami struck 39 years ago today.)

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