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Two weeks, three earthquakes

04:03 AM November 05, 2019

Since elementary school, I have been bombarded with repetitive information about earthquakes. I have lost count of the times I have attended seminars and symposiums about the phenomenon.

I have studied its textbook meaning and scientific explanation inside classrooms where disaster-readiness posters are displayed. I have joined the obligatory nationwide drills where we practice the “duck, cover and hold.”

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This repetitiveness has its reason. The Philippines is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, being situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, and has numerous fault lines that move every now and then.

What’s worse is that these movements are unpredictable. Unlike typhoons, scientists have not yet found a way to detect them before they wreak havoc and claim lives indiscriminately.

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My first encounter with a major earthquake was on the night of Feb. 10, 2017, when a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck my hometown, Surigao City.

I was 17 then, busy typing on my phone to tweet about the play I had just watched when, suddenly, the ground beneath me swayed.

I shrugged it off at first, thinking it was just another slight tremor, the kind that had shaken our city over the last several months.

But a few seconds later, the shaking became stronger, which threw me off-balance. The electricity was immediately cut off, and in the darkness, I found myself calling to God as I had never prayed before.

After the initial shaking, my family and I ran outside. Our neighbors were there, too, some of them crying and not knowing what to do or who to approach. The street was covered with broken glass and debris. Looking at the destroyed facade of the four-story building behind our house, I realized how fleeting and fragile our lives were—how they could end in a snap, no matter how we try to prepare ourselves for such eventuality.

That same year was full of aftershocks, which left my fellow Surigaonons worrying that each jolt might be the one to end us all. For more than a week, we had no electricity and water. It was a traumatic experience, making me paranoid; I began to hallucinate in moments that there was another earthquake when there was none.

But that was not the only earthquake that would shake my existence. Two years later, as I embarked on my college journey far away from my family and my hometown, not one but three consecutive earthquakes would follow me.

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The first happened just a couple of weeks ago, on the night of Oct. 16, 2019. I was taking a nap on the top bunk in our dorm room after an exhausting day at school. I had planned to wake up later in the evening to finish some homework but before my alarm could rouse me from sleep, I was shaken by a strong swaying motion. The dorm’s siren wailed, and I dashed from my bed, almost falling face first as I climbed down the ladder. Outside, the dormers had gathered at the designated area where we had been assigned last month during our campus earthquake and fire drill. We waited there as the authorities checked for damage to the buildings. Once everything was clear, we were allowed to go back in.

The local government had suspended classes in all levels for the next day, but I could not easily fall asleep that night. I was haunted by the fact that an earthquake had struck while I was asleep. If that earthquake had lasted longer and had a higher intensity, would I still have had the chance to wake up?

That question would not surface in my consciousness again until two weeks later, when the same scenario happened twice. Déjà vu all over again. I was greeted in the morning by a magnitude 6.6 earthquake on Oct. 29, and by a magnitude 6.5 earthquake two days after.

Thrice, I had been woken up by an earthquake in a short span of two weeks, in my 19 years of existence. It would seem like a frightening coincidence to others, but I have come to understand since that earthquake in Surigao that some things are somehow not mere coincidences. They happen for a reason.

Sitting on my dorm bed while keeping alert for aftershocks, I pondered on how I had always taken for granted waking up peacefully in the morning. How I always wanted to rush each day and just be over with everything. I was always worrying about the future, that I had forgotten to live in the present.

No matter how prepared we think we are, life is still unpredictable, like an earthquake. It is important to learn how to face such disasters when the time comes, but it is more important to learn how to live and not just merely exist. I am learning the hard way that life and what it can offer are too fleeting, and too precious, to sleep through. I shall never wait for an earthquake to wake me up again.

Nixie E. Serna, 19, is a freshman creative writing student at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

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