ARMM holds successful quake, tsunami drill in Maguindanao

KUSIONG, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 31 July) – Fifty-year-old Norhaiya Untong was only in second grade in this place when she was awakened by the catastrophic 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 1976.

At that time, thousands of people died in coastal areas facing the Moro Gulf. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) website listed 3,351 dead, 1,379 missing, 2,227 injured, and 43,534 left homeless in the calamity. It said the extent of damages to life and properties was high due to the fact that it happened just after midnight and the tsunami caught the people unaware.

“More than 200 people died here, including my father and relatives. Dead bodies littered around. Others were found 40 to 50 days later,” Norhaiya recalled.

She said if the people were only informed, trained on what to do, like in the earthquake and tsunami simulation conducted here Thursday for the culmination of the National Disaster Consciousness Month, many would have been saved in that tragedy.

To her recollection, the big earthquake on August 17, 1976 occurred just shortly after midnight, and lasted a few minutes.

As the shaking intensified, people were yelling and crying, and rushed out of their homes situated along the coast of Kusiong beach.

Then someone yelled “Tidal wave!” as the sea water receded then suddenly rushed back. Huge waves crashed into the coast, destroying anything and everything in its path. Everybody, including Norhaiya, rushed to the mountain about 500 meters away from the coast. Others did not make it and perished.

In Thursday’s replication of the calamity, residents sounded off the alarm using a traditional bamboo instrument. Residents rushed away from the shoreline toward the mountains using the safety route advised by the organizers.

A few minutes later, first responders – composed of personnel from the military, police, Bureau of Fire Protection and rescue groups – arrived.

A horrific scene greeted the responders. Motorboats and bancas turned upside down, houses destroyed, people crying for help while others were out in the sea.

In the aerial shot of GMA News, rescue workers hauled fisher folks, men and women from the sea. Many were “blooded,” others motionless. Rescue personnel applied first aid as fast as they could while others established emergency hospitals where the “wounded” were treated.

There is also a place where those who played dead are settled in one place for proper identification of relatives.

The simulation was skillfully carried out by representatives from various government agencies of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that composed the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC).

Engr. Rainer Amilbahar, PHIVOLCS-Cotabato station head, said the simulation was very significant because it provided the locals the basics of what to do in time of calamities like earthquake and tsunami.

“My initial assessment is very good. As all of us witnessed, the local people followed the instructions on what to do and where to go as escape route,” Amilbahar said.

Ramil Masukat, executive director of ARMM Humanitarian Emergency Response and Action Team (HEART), said two things are vital in a situation like this.

“We should prepare more on the aspect of communication and coordination, especially in areas where mobile phone signal is absent,” he said.

For Norhaiya, what is key is that the people now know “what to do, where to go.” She advised people not to panic but to keep calm so they can decide accurately what to do.