Tuesday, February 7, 2012

of quakes and fools

A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit Cebu yesterday, the strongest quake I can remember since a similarly strong one in the 1980's, when I was in second grade. It lasted for some time -- longer, anyway, than most other quakes that are over before you can ask yourself, "Was that a quake?" The chair I was sitting in rocked back and forth. The shelves shook, but not violently enough to spill their contents. It turned out I was a hundred kilometers or so from the epicenter, and in the ground floor of a well-built house. At no point did I fear for my life.

Others weren't so lucky. The next few hours saw several aftershocks, a standard tsunami alert issued to coastal areas, and a false tsunami alarm that turned downtown Cebu City into an epicenter of mass hysteria. People in areas as far inland as Lahug headed frantically for the hills, spurred by wild rumors that the waters were heading their way.

And then, in the aftermath, came the sneers and jeers of those who didn't panic, some even venturing to suggest that the damage caused by the false alarm was greater than that which could be caused by any tsunami. As always, there are people who act stupidly, and then are those who need to prove how smart they are.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be safe at home, in a house on a hill, several kilometers inland. If I had been downtown, a few minutes' walk from the sea, I don't know what I would have believed or done. Yes, it wasn't that strong a quake. Yes, we're in the central eastern side of Cebu, and the earthquake's epicenter was in the southwest. But sh*t happens. Who can be absolutely sure what nature is and isn't capable of?

I'm sure many of those who panicked yesterday -- especially those who sustained injuries, or rushed out of the house barefoot, or forgot to lock their doors and received unwanted attention from thieves, or did other crazy things -- regret not pausing for a minute and trying to think things through. But I'm sure just as many of them don't regret acting on survival instinct.

Better to be a living fool than a dead one.

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