When Quake and Tide Combine
By “Awake!” correspondent in the Philippines
“SUDDENLY, we felt a jolt, and our room swayed gently, the swaying getting stronger every second until the tossing went like mad.
“We were speechless as the room spun before our terrified eyes. The lights suddenly went out, followed by rumbling sounds of cracking walls and glass raining down the whole building. . . . Yells of anguish reverberated in the dark.”
This was related by a survivor of a two-minute-long earthquake that jarred the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Tuesday, August 17, 1976, at 12:13 a.m.
Registered at 7.8 on the Richter scale, this was the most powerful, most destructive and nightmarish quake to hit the Philippines in all of recorded history. It was of tectonic origin, that is, caused by the movement or deformation of the earth’s crust. American earthquake-monitoring stations placed the epicenter in the Moro Gulf, an arm of the Celebes Sea, some 652 miles (1,049 kilometers) south-southeast of Manila.
Hardest hit were Cotabato City (with a population of 80,000) and the coastal towns of Zamboanga. A large percentage of the commercial buildings in Cotabato City collapsed, either totally or partially. Entire families were entombed in buildings that crumbled. Farmlands were submerged in seawater. Fishermen lost their means of livelihood as surging waters swept away their fishing boats.
According to a newspaper entitled “Bulletin Today,” the earthquake and the following seismic waves left 3,373 dead, 9,149 injured, 2,938 missing and more than 119,000 homeless. Initial damage was estimated at $100 million to $135 million.
The Toll of Seismic Waves
The quake was followed by seismic waves, often called “tidal waves.” Some of these reached heights of thirty feet (9 meters) and traveled at speeds! up to 447 miles (719 kilometers) per hour. The toll was heavy indeed. A surviving fisherman reports:
“My house was located by the sea. I usually do my fishing in the evening. It was past midnight of August 16, while I was working on my net, that our house began to quiver and creak vigorously. Then the earth movement let up momentarily.
“Suddenly I heard another sound, as if of thunder, rushing toward us. Our family, now awake, started to run frantically to a nearby hill. The foaming waters overtook us. We swam as never before. Though gulping down a quantity of seawater in the process, we made it to safety.”
From the hill where they found refuge, this family watched their house being dragged out to sea just like a floating matchbox. Not everyone was so fortunate. Standing stupefied at the onrushing wall of water, many were swept away.
Near the island of Sacol, in the vicinity of Zamboanga City, a fisherman, in a boat more than 325 feet (about 100 meters) offshore, saw some fifty houses collapse at one harsh stroke of giant waves. When the waters receded, he found himself atop a coconut tree. A woman in another area told of seeing her father swept out to sea, then swept back in again with the next wave, still alive. Another individual told of his neighbor’s child, who drifted to sea holding fast to a wooden brace. The child, too, was washed back to shore alive.
In some cases, desire to salvage material goods led to loss of lives. One person left a child in the care of a maid as he went back to the house to get a suitcase. The child died. Another man lost his life when he returned to bolt his doors in anticipation of looters. The looters never came.
A survivor from the island of Olutanga in the Moro Gulf recalls: “When the earthquake stopped, I went over to the wharf and saw four houses caved in. Then I noticed someone pointing toward the sea and shouting: ‘Tidal wave!’ I ran as fast as I could for a hill. Houses left standing by the earthquake were torn to shreds by the colossal waves. As the billows crashed to the shore, chickens flew sky-high, dogs howled, pigs squealed, people screamed and yelled. There were frantic calls to many gods. It was a hair-raising, heartrending sight.”
“When the first light of dawn slowly filtered through a graying sky,” recalled a survivor, the coastal area “was a field of leveled houses, crying children. The dead were all around. Those who survived could not believe what they saw and experienced. The wailing of those whose loved ones perished blended into the stillness that followed. Slowly they got up and, in a daze, started walking around looking for something and for nothing.”
Soon after the disaster subsided, civilian and military agencies launched an all-out rescue, relief and rehabilitation effort. Help, both technical and material, began pouring in. One newsman noted that, in the stricken areas, those who were able “worked shoulder to shoulder digging out the living and the dead from the fallen debris.”
Post-Disaster Activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses
There are more than 76,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Philippines. Naturally all were interested in how their fellow Christians fared. As soon as possible after the earth tremors and flooding, elders of congregations throughout the affected area set out to find all fellow Witnesses. A special representative of the Watch Tower Society writes:
“We thought of several families of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in a log pond by the sea. We did not wait for light of day, but as soon as possible headed into that area. Upon arrival we rubbed our eyes in disbelief. The once thickly populated, bustling community was gone!” Happily, however, none of Jehovah’s Witnesses there suffered death or serious injury, though all of them lost their houses and furnishings.
In Malangas debris of all sorts was strewn about. A few houses were still intact, but most had been leveled. Some persons were busy using motorboats to tow their houses back to shore. An elder from a congregation in that area reports: “I succeeded in towing back my house; only our clothes were lost. But many lives were lost, among both humans and animals. However, though Jehovah’s Witnesses here sustained considerable loss and damage to property, not one of them died.”
After the lifting of the curfew in Cotabato City at four o’clock in the morning following the catastrophe, a ministerial servant of Jehovah’s Witnesses obtained the use of a jeep and made rounds, visiting homes of fellow Witnesses. Here, too, all of Jehovah’s Witnesses had survived and escaped serious injury. Large-scale loss of property, however, made it necessary for some of them to stay at evacuation centers arranged by the government. Others pitched tents or erected shanties a short distance from home in anticipation of expected numerous aftershocks.:
“Earthquakes in One Place After Another”
This earthquake was one of three that jolted Asia during the same week. Commissioner Gregorio Andal of the Commission on Volcanology said: “The earth’s crust at this point is in a turbulent condition and earthquakes can happen anywhere in the world, anytime.” Another group of scientists believes that some seismic process, not fully understood at this time, may be taking place.
In this regard, Jesus foretold an interesting feature of a “sign” that would identify the “conclusion” of the present system of things. In addition to wars, persecution of Christians, increasing lawlessness and other woes, Jesus predicted: “There will be . . . earthquakes in one place after another.” (Matt. 24:3-8; Mark 13:4-8) The Bible historian Luke adds that Jesus said: “There will be great earthquakes.”—Luke 21:11.
During the past sixty-two years Jehovah’s Witnesses have pointed out to their neighbors that all the facets of the sign that Jesus gave have seen fulfillment since 1914. Regarding earthquakes as a feature of that sign, more than 900,000 persons have died because of earthquakes since that year. Counting from about 1,000 years ago, the average yearly death rate from earthquakes was 3,000 before 1914; but since then that average has leaped to 15,000 per year. Jesus’ prophecies about earthquakes apply now!
Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Philippines are busy visiting survivors of their most devastating earthquake. They are comforting them with the gladsome message that a new system, where people will never again suffer accidental deaths in natural disasters, is now near at hand.—2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:3-5.
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‘The coastal area was a field of leveled houses and crying children’