Surigaonons sought higher ground even before tsunami warnings came

TANDAG CITY, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews / 1 Sept) – Even before the tsunami warnings came, residents of this city facing the Pacific Ocean already left their homes to seek higher ground right after Friday evening’s earthquake.

HIGHER GROUNDS. Hundreds of residents ran to the relatively higher ground of the Surigao del Sur provincial capitol in Tandag City August 31, 2012 after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake near Samar. Authorities later declared a tsunami alert level 3 on the eastern parts of the country. MindaNews photo by Erwin MascarinasAround 6,000 of them flocked to the hill where the provincial capitol is situated. By 10 p.m., the provincial grounds were already full of people.

Tandag Mayor Alexander Pimentel, who came to check on the huge number of people, stressed that he did not order the massive evacuation. “The people have been used to react this way since we constantly have tsunami drills,” he said.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOCS) issued the Tsunami Alert Level 3 in Samar, Leyte and Surigao after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck 139 km east of Sulangan, Samar before 9 p.m.

Wilberta Suarez, 56, a resident of the coastal barangay of Dawis, joined the rest of her family in leaving immediately, deciding not to wait for orders to evacuate.

“We just took the initiative into our own hands and decided to climb up here. We cannot believe how strong our homes shook when the earthquake hit,” she said.

Suarez added that when they saw their neighbors, with their belongings, started running, “we decided to move as well.”

Rosalinda Asilum, 42, of Barangay Bungtud, had to take her 70-year-old mother, who was on the wheelchair, to join her husband and two children in their rush towards the capitol grounds.

“Moving for us was hard since we have to slow down for my mother,” she said.

“With an earthquake as strong as that, we know that tsunami might not be far. So we decided to leave right away,” said Asilum.

Rosalinda Cruz Pimentel, president of the local chapter of the Philippine Red Cross and wife of Gov. Johnny Pimentel, said she immediately contacted PRC national president Richard Gordon for advice, who in turn suggested that people move to higher ground because of PHIVOLCS’ tsunami alert.

Residents started going home shortly after PHIVOLCS lifted the alert past midnight. By 2 a.m., majority of those who sought refuge at the capitol grounds had already left. (Erwin Mascariñas / MindaNews)