Batanes town built to withstand typhoons buckles amid strong quake

Katrina Domingo and Karl Cedrick Basco, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 27 2019 04:14 PM | Updated as of Jul 27 2019 05:12 PM

In this photo obtained from social media, cracks are seen on the facade of a building after an earthquake struck Batanes on Saturday. Edna Gato via Reuters

"We were prepared for storms, but not this."

This is how Ivatans from Itbayat town, Batanes, summed up their reaction after a series of earthquakes jolted the country's northernmost municipality leaving at least 8 dead and 60 others injured.

Three strong tremors with magnitudes ranging between 3.2 and 5.9 toppled the island's treasured limestone houses, as well as the belfry of the the centuries-old Nuestra Señora del Rosario Parish.

"Lahat tulala, parang wala nang pag-asa," parish secretary Dominic Asa told ABS-CBN News. "Nakakalungkot kasi pangalawang bahay ko na ang kumbento."

(Everybody was in shock, it seemed hopeless. It's sad, because the convent has been my second home.)

Since the 5.2-magnitude foreshock struck at about 4 a.m., people evacuated to the plaza and open areas fearing aftershocks, he added.

Agnes Nico and her family were among the thousands who flocked to the town plaza after the tremors.

"Takot na takot ako lalo na nu'ng nakita ko ibang mga bahay na gumiba," said Nico, 40, a teacher who lived most of her life on the island.

(I was very scared especially when I saw other houses crumbling down.)

Nico said the rice she just finished cooking tumbled to the floor along with their stove as the quake rocked her hometown.

"Nanginginig mga anak ko sa takot kanina," she said, before recalling the last time she experienced a temblor.

(My children were trembling in fear.)

"Nasa Basco po kami nu'ng July 2001 po ata. Nag-aaral pa ako noon pero mas malakas po 'yung lindol ngayon dito sa Itbayat."

(We were in Basco when a quake stuck around July 2001. I was still studying then, but these quakes in Itbayat were stronger.)

"First time po kami may casualty sa calamity," Nico added. " 'Yung bagyo napaghahandaan po namin but not this."

(This is the first time we had casualties during a calamity. We were prepared for storms, but not this.)

Batanes, a group of islands off the northern coast of Luzon, is usually battered by storms as the territory lies halfway between the Philippines and Taiwan.

For centuries, Ivatans, the island's natives, built their houses from limestones that could weather strong winds and heavy rains.

These decades-old houses that also served as popular tourist backdrops amid the island's hilly landscape couldn't withstand ground tremors, though.

Hours after the quakes, residents began pulling dead bodies out of collapsed homes.

"Nadaganan sila doon sa mga bahay nila . . . Nakaano [tira] kasi sila sa old houses na made of lime[stones] na walang bakal," Itbayat Mayor Raul De Sagon told DZMM.

(They were buried by debris in their houses because they live in old houses made out of limestones, without metal reinforcement.)

School teacher Edna Gato told Reuters: "It's traumatic . . . New houses were damaged and the old houses, which we were preserving, were completely destroyed." 

De Sagon has appealed for medical aid and psychological counselling for his constituents.

"Kung may gustong tumulong, 'yung medical supplies lang and doctors, trauma doctors," De Sagon said.

(If there are people who would want to help, we need medical supplies and doctors, trauma doctors.)

"Maybe mga psychiatrist dahil 'yung mga bata dito tulala. Kahit mga matatanda kailangan siguro matingnan ng mga psychiatrist."

(Maybe we need psychiatrists because the kids here are still in a daze. Even the adults need to be checked by psychiatrists.)