Hoax text info sends Siargao folks fleeing to higher grounds a second time

GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island (MindaNews/5 Sept) – Shortly after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) lifted the tsunami alert brought about by the earthquake Friday last week, weary residents headed straight home. But that’s not the end of the drama in this surfing capital of the country.

In less than 12 hours, a mass of evacuees fled their homes again and sought refuge in an elevated area several kilometers from the town center because of text messages claiming a tsunami will hit the island at exactly 2 a.m.

General Luna Mayor Jaime P. Rusillon said he was saddened with the misinformation, as much as he was angry that many residents believed that it came from legitimate sources.

“I told them not to go there because there was no information from the National Disaster Coordinating Council that a quake that would trigger a tsunami was coming,” a frustrated Rusillon said. He was referring to the highly-elevated village of Consuelo, where residents normally congregate during tsunami alerts.

Rusillon said a huge number of people headed there for the second time because they felt safer there.

Rusillon’s wife, Cecelia, also a former mayor of this town, said she also received the message purportedly coming from an official of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). The message read: “PAGASA weather report from MINDANAO particular in Davao, Butuan, Surigao City and thier province…May isang pang paparating na lindol mamayang alas 2 ng madaling araw, dapat alerto po tayo sa anumang mangyari. Salamat po Nathaniel Cruz weather forcaster. Pakikalat.” (There is a coming earthquake at two o’clock in the morning, please be reminded that we should be always be on alert for the possible calamity. Pleas spread.)

Cecelia said she immediately knew the text was a hoax but some people believed it.

The mayor said he tried but failed to convince the residents to stay put.

“I explained to them there is no device yet that can detect a coming earthquake,” he said.

MindaNews made rounds in the town and saw that there were only a handful of people left in the otherwise busy boulevard, a entertainment area of the town.

“This used to be a noisy place at night because of the videoke bars and restaurants. Now it seems a no man’s land,” said Tads Meras, a resident in Barangay 2.

Stores and shops were closed early in the evening while on the streets, families were seen leaving with their pets and belongings.

“We are going in Consuelo because there is a report about a tsunami,” said a tricycle driver, adding it was better to believe the reports rather than be a victim if it turns out to be real.

One of the bars at the surfing site Cloud Nine, foreigners and a small number of locals started their own “Tsunami Party.”

Rico Rietenbach, a resort owner who was in the party, said it was hard to believe that someone could predict an earthquake to come.

“The whole town gets crazy, and people evacuate for the second time around without valid reason. That’s stupid,” he said.

Meanwhile, a school in Barangay Sta. Cruz of this town was severely damaged after Friday’s quake. Rusillon said three classrooms of Sta. Cruz Elementary School, which were built during Marcos’s time, were ruined during Friday’s quake. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)