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Daily History

July 16 1990 Earthquake wreaks havoc in the Philippines


On July 16th 1990, more than 1,000 people were killed when a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck Luzon Island in the Philippines. The massive tremor wreaked havoc across a sizeable portion of Luzon, the country’s largest island, with Baguio City suffering the most devastating effects.

The epicentre 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. Getting out of a multi-story building was a good safety precaution that afternoon, although many people were injured and a few even died in stampedes of others doing the same thing.

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.

The best estimate is that 1,000 bodies were eventually recovered. At least another 1,000 people suffered serious injuries. 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.

American military personnel stationed in the Philippine archipelago took part in the relief effort. The area was revisited by disaster less than a year later when Mount Pinatubo erupted. Some geologists believe the two events were connected.

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