An aid worker's diary: Earthquake in the Philippines

Maryann Zamora, a field communications specialist with World Vision in the Philippines, describes her firsthand experience of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the Philippines on October 15 -- and why she continues to do the work she does, despite her fears.

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It was a Tuesday morning. I was in the middle of my sleep when a little voice called my name.

“Mai, wake up.”

I thought it was just a dream, but I suddenly heard a thunderous noise. Everybody in the neighborhood was shouting. People were in a panic.

While heading downstairs, the room was vibrating and the walls were swinging. Everything around me was plunging down -- TV sets, books, cabinets -- but I tried to compose myself to go down safely. My housemates all looked scared. Others were shaking. Most of us were still in our pajamas.

I’m renting a small apartment in Cebu. It’s an old wooden house built more than a decade ago. I felt the strong shaking inside the house and it took me a while to realize that it was an earthquake. The strongest tremor lasted for more than a minute. It sounded like a bulldozer demolishing houses. Unfortunately, we felt strong aftershocks almost every minute. I got so scared. I thought about my family, who are far from me. I thought it was the end of the world.

After a few minutes, fire trucks and ambulances were passing by. Debris was falling from the tall buildings. Many structures were cracked, and aftershocks seemed unstoppable. I started to feel dizzy. A lot of people standing in an open space were in a panic, looking up at 10-15 story buildings. Some of them were crying, others were holding their family members or friends, and some were just going in circles probably thinking, “Is this real?”

Since it’s not safe to stay at our apartment anymore, my colleagues and I decided to evacuate to a safe place in Cebu. We stayed at the house of a colleague overnight. However, I didn’t sleep. I wish I had a button to switch off the aftershocks. It was very scary.

I was monitoring the news on social media. I learned that the epicenter of the quake was in Bohol. The damage there was horrible. Pictures of devastation were feeding into Facebook. I have traveled to Bohol many times, since World Vision implements programs in the province. The loss and devastation broke my heart. I saw the need to help.

I was thankful to survive the quake. After five years supporting World Vision relief responses, I can still say that this one was distressing. I have been sharing resources on social media while responding to interviews, but honestly, I was trembling -- literally and figuratively. I have been feeling scary aftershocks.

A boy bends on his knees as he waits for tents to be distributed in his community. A World Vision team distributed the 77 tents to quake-affected families in Catigbian, Bohol. (Photo: ©2013 Orlando Ducay Jr./World Vision)

The day after the quake, a World Vision response team in Visayas was deployed to conduct an assessment. We’re all scared, yet our fears haven’t stopped us from being humanitarian workers. We recognized the risks but knew we should keep going. We can’t leave the families to suffer more. It’s a leap of faith.

While roaming around, we witnessed different forms of devastation -- collapsed buildings, churches, houses, retrieved bodies, scared and anxious families. It was emotionally tough.

The night of the quake, families were temporarily seeking safe spaces on the streets. They were lining up, setting up temporary tents on a cold, dark night.

Families and children live in the rice fields while others are at evacuation centers. A mother shared, “I thanked God for my second life. My children need me.”

I feel so sorry for those who lost loved ones. I feel pity for children facing the challenges of living at evacuation centers. I feel worry for the families who have nothing to eat. And I feel for those survivors who are anxious of their safety due to persistent aftershocks.

Despite the challenges, the survivors do not want to lose hope. They were patient falling in line to have clean drinking water, even if water is a scarcity. I witnessed how they help each other, too.

I wish I can put away everything I’ve witnessed and felt during these dire times, but it seems like there’s just too much. However, the plight of each survivor encourages me to help. I feel scared of the aftershocks but I don’t want to quit. I’ll stay with my team. I won’t stop until I see the smiles of the children again.

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World Vision relief teams in Bohol scaled up their emergency response and provided assistance to more than 50,000 people affected by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Truckloads of World Vision relief supplies included food, water, hygiene kits, and tents. World Vision has project areas in the quake-hit areas in Bohol, assisting nearly 12,000 children.

Ongoing relief and rehabilitation will last for six months and will include a shelter project for thousands of displaced families who lost their homes. World Vision seeks to provide psychosocial assistance to around 2,000 children through its Child-friendly Spaces, helping prepare them to return to school.

World Vision has been working with the people of the Philippines since 1954, and we are often one of the first responders when disaster strikes. Our global pre-positioning resource network ensures that we can provide emergency relief supplies including food, hygiene kits, and temporary shelter, and Child-Friendly Spaces to provide children with safe environments.

Your one-time donation to the Philippines Disaster Response Fund will help provide vital relief to children and families impacted by disasters in the Philippines.

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