33. School was in full swing for both of us. Peggy returned to the elementary school in Malate, and I was teaching two classes, one at the University of the Philippines and one at Assumption College. Assumption is/was probably the most exclusive girls’ school in the Philippines. Peace Corps didn’t generally encourage us to work in such high-class places. But I justified it (to myself at least) by saying that these girls would soon be leaders of their country, which meant they should have Peace Corps help as much as anybody else should. Because of the background of these girls, they spoke English very well, but more important, they had been encouraged to think and to be at least somewhat creative. Many of them had drama experience, and they all seemed eager and willing to learn. Also, I was pleased because I was finally going to get to direct three one act plays.
34. It was now rainy season, and it rained every day and every night. Frequently the wind blew so hard that an umbrella just got in the way. Peggy turned one pair of her sandals into her “swimming shoes,” so that she could keep from ruining them all … it was impossible to keep our feet dry. Classes were even cancelled because some schools were flooded. It seemed rather strange to have no school because of wind and rain, but we had no say-so in the matter.
An earthquake struck Manila on August 2, causing a terrible disaster. Our whole house shook, and we were sure it would collapse, but it didn’t. Peggy said that she didn’t think that she had ever been so scared as she was for a few minutes. But nothing in our apartment was damaged, and we were no worse off except for a few minutes fright. Some people, however, did not fair so well. The worst disaster was in a large apartment building in downtown Manila.
Within seconds after the first large tremor, Ruby Towers apartment building (housing around 600 people) collapsed. A few occupants managed to escape, and some were rescued later. But more than half of the residents were killed. The last to be rescued were two small girls, unburied 125 hours (5 ½ days) after the disaster. Rescue operations officially ended 12 days after the quake, but there was still lots of rubble that had to be cleared..
The earthquake badly damaged several buildings, but the Ruby Towers was the only one that collapsed. Some of the American soldiers who helped with rescue work said that they had never seen cement shatter like glass like it did. Some of the building’s permit records disappeared, and all sorts of people were accused of constructing a faulty building. Some German experts discovered that a large fault lied directly under where the Ruby Towers used to stand, but it seemed strange that no other building on this same fault line crumbled.
During the day of the quake there were many radio appeals for volunteer workers, for food, and for all sorts of equipment. We heard the appeals, but didn’t immediately respond because we were tired and had spent too much at a big American-type supermarket. But while we were eating lunch the following day, the news really got to us. So Linda (our maid), Peggy and I went to the high school across from the disaster site, where a rescue center had been set up. There they said that what was most needed was coffee and sandwiches, since there were lots of working volunteers. So I went to the Peace Corps office to borrow a coffee urn, and Linda and Peggy bought 30 loaves of bread, 30 cans of sandwich meat, a large jar of sandwich spread, and a package of napkins (which were much cheaper for wrapping sandwiches than wax paper).
Once home, we recruited the help of one of the maids of our next-door-neighbor, and the three women made sandwiches like fury while I bought sugar, milk (Filipinos use gobs of sugar and milk in their coffee), coffee, and hot cups. (Poor Linda: we paid her July salary to her late and then borrowed it back to buy supplies.)
Finally, we set out about 4:00 p.m. for the high school. We each had two full shopping bags; it was raining, and the bus was crowed. But we got there without anything being ruined.
Nobody seemed to know where we should set up the coffee urn, and it turned out that the urn was 110 and the school was 220. But with the help of a very nice man and many boy scouts, we finally got a table in a fairly clear area. There were several fires going (in the courtyard) because rice and soup were being cooked. I managed to get a spot for us at one of the fires to boil water. This was a slow process, but it went faster when some men from a bottle-gas company came with some fuel and several burners.
Once in business, Linda and Peggy made coffee and filled cups, and I delivered it to workers … both those doing the actual rescue work and those helping them. At one point we had three people delivering coffee (as well as people stopping by), and Linda and Peggy were making coffee and filling cups as fast as they could. Our meager supplies didn’t last long, but the Social Welfare Administration, which was handling various donations, was able to keep us well supplied. The three of us worked until about 4:00 a.m. The following night Peggy and I went back and worked from 7:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m., but our efforts then were hampered because of a lack of hot cups. Sometimes I got so close to the rescue work that my hands shook and I spilled the coffee.
Manila had more than 300 aftershocks following the primary and secondary shocks. Many of the shocks were strong enough to be felt, and because of some of the “bad-sized” ones people panicked.
35. From time to time we mailed packages home to ourselves back in the states thinking that by doing so packing wouldn’t be such a big job when we left the Philippines.
Peggy and Randy Ford