20 YEARS AFTER EARTHQUAKE: Dagupan’s more vibrant than ever

July 21, 2010 at 11:28 am Leave a comment

By Yolanda Sotelo

DAGUPAN CITY – A walk along downtown reveals hardly a trace of the July 16, 1990 earthquake that brought the city down to its knees.

It has been 20 years since the intensity 7.7 earthquake hit the city that liquefied the soil, tumbled down buildings and electric power poles and bridges, pulverized concrete roads and traumatized most residents of the city and adjoining towns.

Except for a few “sunken structures,” all buildings have been reconstructed, the bridges have been rebuilt, and the roads paved and even widened.

From the looks of everything, the city’s economy is much more vibrant than ever.

“This just means that there is life after a catastrophe. This is because of the determination of people to go back to their normal lives,” Mayor Benjamin Lim said.

It was Lim, then a fledgling businessman, who rallied his peers not to leave but to rebuild the almost totally devastated city.

Days after the killer quake, the businessmen put up billboards in different parts of the city. They read: Dagupan is unsinkable. To sink is unthinkable. To leave is impossible. To rebuild we shall forever do.

And they did, with a little help from then fourth district Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. who was able to secure P2 billion rehabilitation fund from the national government for rebuilding the road and the bridges.

Twenty years hence, city officials have become more concerned with building safety strictly implements the building code especially in the establishment of foundation.

City Engineer Virginia Rosario said the city’s soil is prone to liquefaction, so after the earthquake, those constructing buildings are required to submit soil bearing test results, or the capacity of the soil to carry a structure.

“But if the building is higher than two stories, we require the use of pile foundation (a foundation that should reach the solid part of the soil which could be 20 meters deep). Otherwise, they can use footing tie-beam or mat foundation,” Rosario explained.

It was the liquefaction of the soil that “saved” most buildings in the city from devastation but most sank and tilted to their side. Some buildings were declared no longer safe and were condemned.

Every July, the city conducts drills among students and government and private employees on what to do if earthquake occurs again. Similar drills are conducted for other calamities like fire and typhoon.

“Our unpreparedness when the July 1990 earthquake hit the city should have jolted the officials to the reality that such disasters can strike anytime,” Gonzalo Duque, president of theLyceum Northwestern University, said.

Duque said his school has wide open spaces where the students and employees can run to, if there is earthquake. There are yearly drills, too, for the school populace.

“These are not enough, but we can never really be prepared for natural disasters. For instance, we prepare for an Intensity 7.7 earthquake because it is the kind that occurred in 1990. But what if the next big thing is Intensity 9 or 10? Would our preparedness be enough?” he said.

One thing that the city should prepare for is tsunami, a possible disaster to hit the city because it is a coastal city, but no one is preparing for it, he said.

Robert Erfe-Mejia, head of the Public Order and Safety Office which is in charge of the drills, admitted that preparedness of the residents is not enough, and even some buildings may not be able to take another beating from an earthquake.

“What we can all do is to pray,” said Armi Bangsal-Lorica, a businesswoman from Lingayen whose father had a heart attack and died in Dagupan during the earthquake.

“My father’s assistant left and five minutes later, the earthquake hit and my father had a heart attack. His assistant was a former medical student and could have helped him, if he had not left,” she said.

While 20 years has passed, memories of the earthquake still send shivers down the spines of some residents.

“I saw children running towards their homes. I saw people walking down the road like zombies. Total strangers held on to each other for support as the tremors came one after the other. People held hands as they waded through the flooded roads. It was eerie. Unfortunately, no one was able to record those on video,” said a resident, who asked not to be named.

Aftershocks came in succession and residents put up tents and slept outside of their homes, afraid that another big tremble would crumble down their homes. For weeks on end, there was no electricity, no telephone, and no tap water. The main roads were destroyed and people had to endure the dust for months.

“But everyone seemed to be praying. This means that when such disasters come, everyone somehow gets closer to God,” the resident said.

Entry filed under: Features.

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