When nature is silent, it conveys contentment, and everything is in place. However, when it speaks through strong winds, heavy downpour or tremors, it invokes fear, which paralyzes us. We definitely suffer from the whiplashes of nature and we must act, prepare for the inevitable, or do something to find solutions to nature’s maladies.
I encountered nature’s wrath in February 2012 when I was 10 years old. The school floor trembled, the walls swayed, and I stood petrified until our teacher ordered us to get out of the room.
When the swaying abated, my father and I headed home, but the jolts still came intermittently, and I could barely eat lunch.
Classes were suspended; with nothing to do, I curled in bed pretending to fall asleep. I learned later that a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit Guihulngan, some 130 kilometers from my hometown of Dumaguete City. Some roads near the epicenter were sliced up while a hill collapsed, the townsfolk buried in an instant grave.
My father, who was closely monitoring the situation, saw our neighbor in tears. She was saying over her mobile phone that the shoreline had extended, implying a possible tsunami. Taking the news seriously, dad drove us to higher grounds. Along the roadside was an apocalyptic sight of houses and structures in disarray.
In the Philippines, we are trained for earthquake drills but in a very cursory way — only how to get out of the classroom. There was no comprehensive disaster preparedness system in place, as I saw people walking about, bringing their kitchen utensils and pots, which I assumed were filled with food, together with sleeping accessories and bags. Tagging along with them were their domesticated animals.
Our ears were glued to the car radio; while city people rushed uphill, some crazy teenagers had gone to the shoreline, waiting for the waves to engulf them.
The vehicles moved uphill like a funeral march, and my parents discussed if we should proceed. Fearing overcrowding in the mountains, we decided to return to the house. Of course, I was unable to sleep the entire night; my bed was a swaying pendulum from the aftershocks.
In December 2011, a few days before New Year, a flash flood unfortunately swamped my hometown. That single day’s downpour was equivalent to a month’s rainfall. Tropical Storm “Sendong” was so terrifying that dad had to rush to my grandmother, who could hardly move because of her stroke.
Dad and my uncle had to evacuate her and her things to the second floor of her old house. The water rose to about head level, but subsided that night.
Each year that I encounter nature’s wrath (Typhoon “Pablo” in December 2012, the Bohol earthquake in October 2013, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November 2013), I learn, or relearn, the lesson that when we abuse our environment, it retaliates too, taking away what we have toiled for, and even our lives.
By changing our lifestyles and routines, we can do little acts of conservation such as turning off running water while brushing our teeth, using laundry water to sprinkle on our organic garden, pulling out electric plugs when not in use, buying groceries in bulk to reduce plastic bags, planting more trees in open spaces, segregating garbage and going digital to reduce paper consumption. Campaigns to promote environmental care and awareness are also essential.
Nature is a constant provider for all our needs; it never asks for anything in return, just to be handled with care. Young people like me and the entire world should join hands in promoting activities that encourage solidarity with nature. Who knows, with the aid of technology, we can re-engineer the world back to its infancy stage, when it was young and clean.
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Keanu Paul B. SyGaco, 17, is a student at the Silliman University Senior High School.
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