Remembering the 1990 Luzon Earthquake that wreaked havoc in the Philippines
The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Located along the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” and having five major fault lines, it is no stranger to earthquakes. One of its most memorable seismic events was the powerful quake that struck the island of Luzon in 1990, which resulted in a number of collapsed buildings, left an estimated $369-million worth of damages, and a total of 2,412 people dead.
The massive 7.7-magnitude earthquake that struck Luzon Island in the Philippines on July 16, 1990, wreaked havoc across a sizeable portion of Luzon, the country’s largest island, with Baguio City suffering the most devastating effects. The epicenter of the quake, which struck at 4:26 p.m., was north of Manila in the Nueva Ecija province. Reports indicate that the shaking went on for nearly a full minute. Collapsing buildings were the main cause of damage and death, although many people were injured stampedes of people fleeing multi-story buildings.
At Christian College, a six-story building completely collapsed, trapping approximately 250 students and teachers inside. Heroic rescue efforts saved many, but some victims who did not die in the collapse were found dead later from dehydration because they were not pulled out in time.
All types of buildings, including several resort hotels in Baguio, known as the Philippines’ Summer Capital, suffered tremendous damage. Most of the city’s 100,000 residents slept outdoors that evening and during the following week, afraid to return to their homes amid the frequent aftershocks. For days, workers pulled bodies from the demolished buildings in Baguio. Rescue efforts were hampered severely because the three main roads into the city were blocked by landslides. Hundreds of motorists were stranded on the roads as well. Outside of Baguio, a chemical factory fire also caused terrible damage. The Tuba gold and copper mine in the area lost 30 workers when a mine collapsed.
Baguio, sitting on at least seven fault lines, is now listed as one of the most risk-prone cities in Asia. In addition to the risk of earthquakes, the area’s high annual rainfall increases the likelihood of deadly landslides. The area was revisited by disaster less than a year later when Mount Pinatubo erupted. Some geologists believe the two events were connected.
The earthquake left not just massive damage and casualties, but also lessons about disaster readiness. Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Director Dr. Renato Solidum said the 1990 earthquake left four valuable lessons: The public needs to respond properly during earthquakes. Hazards and their effects should be simulated. Building codes should be implemented properly. And land use should be carefully planned.