The 1976 tsunami: Maguindanao had highest death toll

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35 YEARS LATER. What used to be the auditorium of the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City. The earthquake that spawned a tsunami on August 17, 1976 in the Moro Gulf, struck shortly after midnight, affecting some 700 kilometers of coastline from Sultan Kudarat to Zamboanga. In Cotabato City, several buildings and a portion of the Quirino bridge collapsed and in Notre Dame University, fire broke out at the Science building causing it to collapse, destroying also the neighboring auditorium. MindaNews Photo by Toto Lozano

PHOTO: What was left of the auditorium of the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City after the the 8.2 magnitude earthquake of August 17, 1976 in this photo taken on March 18, 2011. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

LINEK, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/23 March) – “Pagdating namin dito, maraming bangkay. Ang kamalig sa palengke sa Dimapatoy, puno ng bangkay. Ang mosque sa Mompong puno ng bangkay. Yung kalsada dyan, puno ng bangkay.”

The sight of cadavers everywhere and a village “washed out,” greeted Ango Kalog when they got to this village early morning of August 17, 1976, just hours after the country’s “most disastrous tsunami,” which followed a magnitude 8.2 earthquake, struck just after midnight, affecting 700 kilometers of coastline bordering the Moro Gulf.

Maguindanao recorded the highest number of deaths, followed by Zamboanga del Sur and Lanao del Sur.

About 95% of the deaths were due to the tsunami, the 1978 report written by Victor L. Badillo and Zinnia C. Astilla said.

“About 8,000 were dead or missing. About 10,000 were injured and about 90,000 were homeless,” a 1978 report for the Special Committee on Tsunami Warning System, the National Committee on Marine Sciences and National Science Development Board, intended primarily to “present findings about this tsunami for a better understanding of it and that steps may be taken to lessen loss to lives and property in future tsunamis”

Maguindanao’s count was 2,608 from the tsunami (1,815 dead and 793 missing) and 131 from the quake (103 dead and 28 missing). Zamboanga del Sur recorded 1,134 (582 dead and 552 missing); Lanao del Sur posted 1,156 (755 dead and 180 missing from the tsunami and 41 from the quake); and Sultan Kudarat posted 391 (229 dead and 52 missing from tsunami; 79 dead and 32 missing from the quake).

Among the cities, Pagadian City recorded 746 (447 dead and 229 missing) while Zamboanga’s record was 198 (111 dead, 87 missing). In Cotabato City, the record was 281. But more people died from the quake (110 dead, 93 missing) than the tsunami (57 dead, 21 missing).

The figures cited in the report are contained in tables containing the “number of casualties/victims” as of August 30, 1976. The table was based on statistics from the Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications, the Mindanao Sulu Secretariat for
Social Action, Office of Civil Defense and Philippine Air Force.

The tsunami affected the coastal areas of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and the cities of Cotabato, Zamboanga and  Pagadian.

In Maguindanao, Upi posted the highest number of deaths from the tsunami, at 462 and 138 missing; Parang, 409 dead and 19 missing; Bongo Island, 354 dead, 259 missing; Dinaig, 280 dead, 182 missing from tsunami and 2 dead, 10 missing from the quake; Linek, 160 dead
from tsunami, 182 missing.

But the combined number of dead and missing puts Bongo Island as having the highest record at 613, followed by Upi with 600, Dinaig with 474, Parang with 428 and Linek, 342.

Kalog, who lived in neighboring Mompong village which was not as badly hit as Linek, the village where he resides now, told MindaNews Friday that he estimates the “maraming bangkay” (so many cadavers) they found were around 400. Babu Minang Katug Blao, whose house is about 300 meters from the shore here, recalls seeing the bodies of about 60 adults but added there were so many children who died it was so difficult to count. In a rice field, the bodies of the  children looked like “tulingan” (fish), she recalls.

Other areas affected in Maguindanao were Matanog, which recorded 80 deaths from the tsunami; Buluan, 9 and Maganoy, 5. For both tsunami and quake, Datu Piang recorded 64; and Sultan Kudarat, 124.

In Maguindanao, the report noted that there had been “more severe tsunamis, but areas hit were less populated and had less man-made structures.”

In Zamboanga del Sur, Alicia town suffered the most with 413 (213 dead, 200 missing), followed by Mabuhay, 197 (105 dead, 92 missing); Olutanga, 131 (21 dead, 110 missing); Dimataling, 57 (52 dead, 5 missing); Malangas, 50 (42 dead, 8 missing); Tabina, 47 (25 dead, 22
missing); Lapuyan, 37 (8 dead, 29 missing); Ramon Magsaysay, 37 (21 dead, 16 missing).

Other areas affected were Dumalinao, 29 (15 dead, 14 missing); Labangan, 28 (19 dead, 9 missing); Tukuran, Margosatubig and Ipil at 16 each; Limaong and Naga at 12 each; Kuamalaran at 11; and Buug, 4.

In Lanao del Sur, Balabagan was the hardest hit with 430 (350 dead and 80 missing); followed by Malabang, 258 (208 dead and 50 missing from the tsunami; and 41 dead from the quake).

In Palapagan, the record was 247 (197 dead and 50 missing).

In Sultan Kudarat province, Lebak, where the waves were estimated to be nine meters high, 160 died from the tsunami and 42 were reported missing while 25 persons died from the quake.

Kalamansig had 106 (50 dead and 9 missing from tsunami; 47 dead from quake).

In Lanao del Norte, the list was 343 (168 dead and 181 missing).

Karomatan posted the highest at 77 dead and 162 missing; in Sapad, the number was 94 (75 dead, 19 missing); and Kapatagan, 10 dead from tsunami.

In Cotabato City, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology website, several buildings collapsed, among them the two-story D’Max Restaurant, the four-story Sagittarius Hotel, the Amicus Building.

The first floor of the building collapsed during the initial tremors that triggered a fire. Five to six hours later, the Phivolcs report said, “the structure collapsed completely.”

In Notre Dame University, after the quake, fire broke out at the Science Building. After a few hours, the Science wing collapsed, the auditorium suffered heavy fire damage.

Thirty five years later, the concrete wall of what used to be the stage of the auditorium still stands, the area where the seats used to be now a parking lot.

Col. Dickson Hermoso of Cotabato City, now head of the Peace Process Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, says he was 18 years old and a sophomore in college at the NDU during the earthquake. “I have a vivid memory how that strong earthquake and
tsunami destroyed the place. We were ROTC cadets who got those trapped in the collapsed buildings (Sagittarius Hotel, Sultan Hotel, Southseas Dept. Store, etc.). We also joined in the retrieval of bodies of so many people who died because of the tsunami along Linek seashore,
those buried in tons of mud and in Bongo Island. It was terrible,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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