By Ragene Andrea Palma
You see ruins. A sight of endless ruins.
It started shaking when you were in the office, and about to break for lunch. The tremor was so strong that you slammed into your desktop monitor headfirst. Luckily, you only got a gash across the cheek. You realize it’s an earthquake, and grip the table, trying to get cover. Bookshelves are swaying, and the lights fluctuate. You get dizzy, but you manage to duck underneath the desk. You get a glimpse of Jane, your seatmate, unconscious, slumped on her desk. She got hit by the printer too hard, it had fallen from the top of her computer desk. Other officemates are crying loudly.
You hear pipes bursting, and metal creaking. You think the ceiling will collapse. You try to glimpse beyond the window, and you see octopus wires sparking, and an electric post falling. Your heart is beating so hard.
You hear yourself asking God if this is the end.
The shaking is still strong, and you desperately pray that the building doesn’t go down, but half of you believes it will. You cling fast to the table leg.
Something explodes in the distance, far down the street. The shaking stops.
Your officemates have rushed out the door. You make your way toward it, confused, still shocked. You grab your phone, which fell to the floor. You look at Jane, still unconscious, praying hard that she’s breathing.
Before you can check, another officemate pulls you to the door. You want to stay, but they don’t let you. You join the rushing crowd to the lobby. Power is out, the building is enclosed, concrete, and there are no windows here. It’s dark. Are there actually generators here?
They’re rushing to the stairs, and you get swayed by the crowd. Some are coming from upper floors. You still think of your seatmate. Will she die?
They are shouting that the building might go down, and you panic. You rush down as fast as you can. Five floors down. You have rarely used these steps in how many years of being in the office.
Where are we going again?
Down the steps, so many steps. These are very small steps. You think of lola at home. She can’t walk anymore. Was Inday with her? Were they safe? You wanted to think, but there’s just no time.
You rush out the building. They’re still screaming. You want to scream too. You’re supposed to go to the open parking space. But the cars had all moved, and there was no space to go to. The old tree on the sidewalk had knocked down an electric post, making lines spark.
You look down the street. From your point of view, you see the plain sight of buildings that collapsed. Rubble is on the street. The dust cloud is so big, and expanding, coming near you. People— probably survivors from that structure— are running away, some towards you, some towards the adjacent street.
It starts to shake again. Without thinking, you run to the sidewalk.
An electric transformer explodes near you. You run again, but this time down the street, towards the dust cloud— it’s this or you get electrocuted by the nearby zapping lines.
But a street pole falls, you get hit. You fall down on the street, unconscious.
It’s already dark when you wake up. You don’t know where you are, but thankfully there are people around, noisy. You’re on the ground, and you sit up.
You feel something on your head. It’s a plaster. You look around. Beside you, someone’s unconscious. To your other side, the little girl is sleeping, and bleeding on the arm. It’s a small cut, you guess, but there’s hardly any light.
You feel thirsty, and you feel very bad. Everyone’s scrambling about. Some are shouting, some are carrying people on their backs, some people are crowded under the few lamps you see in the distance.
You fumble about. Your phone isn’t in your pocket. You begin to think about mom, about dad, about your brother, and your lola. Where were they? Where they alright?
Boiling acid seems to burn through your stomach at the thought that something might have happened to them.
You stand up, and you walk towards the table. Someone shouts at you to stay where you are, but you keep moving. They shout again, saying you’re not okay, and that you have to lie down. But you keep walking. You have to find a phone.
The people at the table have papers scattered about. They’re all talking. You see a few cellphones, and a few radios. You approach one of the people seated, who looks severely tired. You ask to borrow a cellphone.
“It’s useless,” he responds. “There’s no signal. Can’t use the radio either. You’ll just use up the battery.”
“Let me try,” you say, noticing your voice is hoarse. You rack your brains for the numbers. You can’t even remember what mom’s number is.
“No. We can’t charge either if you use it. Go back to the nurse.”
You start to get angry, and to panic. You need to call your family.
“Go back to the nurse.” You explain how this is important.
“We know but these are for official purposes.”
You grow impatient, and this goes verbally.
“You know, go back to the nurse. We all want to call our families. But we have bigger things going on. We need the radio for food and water. And we need to know what’s going on. Many are reported dead. You just sit down and pray your family is alive.”
You’re still angry, this is useless. You look around. This looks like a camp. You stare at where you were laying down, and you realize there were so many of you.
You get shocked when you realize some of those people might be dead. Or dying. You cover your mouth, revolted, and it occurs to you to be thankful that you’re alive.
You look away, and see people bringing in other people. Some are bloody. You can’t stand it, so you move towards another part of the camp. There were armed policemen. They also looked very tired, but were forcing themselves to be alert.
The nurse shouts again, and you obey this time. You ask if there’s any water.
“No, we’re waiting for water. Sit down.”
You stare. There should be water somewhere. Someone else talks, from among the patients huddled near the bodies.
“We ran out of water.”
You look at him. He invites you to sit down. There are others beside him, sitting on the ground, hugging their legs.
“Do you have a phone?”
“Signal’s out. I have my phone.”
“Can I try?”
You try, but you fail. There’s absolutely no signal.
You return the phone and sit down. You hug yourself.
“We also tried. Just keep calm.”
You start to cry. You want to see your mom so bad and embrace her. You begin to think the last words you said to her, and the last things she said to you. But you can’t remember. You think about lola. She’s probably gone, the poor lady. She would never stand a chance, she was so fragile.
“Don’t cry. You’ll feel sick after. You’ll waste energy. You’ll lose water.”
You gulp, and try to steady your breath but you continue to think about your family.
The waiting game begins.
It’s been a week now at the camp. They give you water and food when they find some, but in rations. You help each other when there are supplies, and when they move bodies out.
It shakes from time to time. You learned how to deal with it the hard way. On the second day at camp, you tried to get out. You said you would do everything, no matter what, to try to get back home. Even if it had to be on foot.
But a few steps out, it was a sight of endless ruins. The landscape was destroyed. Roads cracked. Debris sitting everywhere. Burned pavements were still marked with soot.
And it started shaking. The nightmare was back, and you froze, thinking you would die.
Thank God for the blessing of how many lives but after that you stayed put at the camp. Waiting, waiting. The camp was the only refuge until we get help, or we get out.
They said it would be bad. But you never thought it would end up like this.
Ragene Andrea Palma is an urban planner, whose work has been focused on the fields of
disaster rehabilitation and local economic development. Visit more of her works at