Saturday, November 13, 2004
: . The Newcomer and the Oldtimer by José Montero y Vidal (continued)
The earthquake lasted some forty seconds and stopped without causing any damage because, though strong, it had made the house swing like a pendulum.
After everybody had calmed down, Alvaredo, who saw Fonseca laughing, said, "You, young man, have no idea what earthquakes are like, nor do you know their dreadful consequences. Earthquakes are the worst calamity that the country suffers from. At first, I, too, wasn't afraid of them. Many times, whenever an earthquake woke me up, I would just turn on my side half-asleep. I would not bother to run, unlike now. I hardly saw a lamp move. Nowadays, whenever there is an earthquake, my hair stands on end, I tremble like quicksilver, I gasp for breath, I lose my speech and I experience great agony while it lasts. This has been happening to me since the disastrous earthquake of 3 June 1863. That frightful catastrophe will never be erased from the memory of the survivors in Manila. The collapsed buildings are proof of the monstrosity of that earthquake, which filled Manila with grief, leaving it in ruins for many years. Remembering that disaster makes my whole body shake. That explains why I was terribly scared a moment ago."
"Actually, I have seen ruins in various places in the capital," observed Fonseca. "But I did not know what caused them. I would like very much to know the details of the 1863 earthquake."
"Well, I will satisfy your curiosity because I was a witness to the disaster," replied Alvaredo. "I remember all the circumstances as if they happened only yesterday. Listen. It was 7:25 in the evening of that fateful day. A loud underground noise was heard, and immediately the earth trembled, causing many buildings to fall down with a frightening, deafening sound.
"That strong quake was followed by another shock and some circular movements, causing the houses, which had been weakened from the first shock, to fall to the ground. The rest lay in ruins. A kind of blaze mixed with a column of dust rose from the city. The agitated waters of the Pasig River turned a leaden color. The ground opened up in various places. The bells from all the churches kept ringing lugubriously by themselves until the towers that held them collapsed. A loud scream from the city dwellers, shouts of agony from the victims, cries of anguish from their relatives, of panic and terror from the rest filled the air. There was tremendous confusion. It was not possible to be calm during the first moments of the dreadful cataclysm.
"The aftermath was overwhelming. No words could describe it. The cathedral was leveled, burying in the rubble priests, chaplains, singers, and the people who were celebrating the eve of Corpus Christi there. A few survived because by a stroke of luck, they were pulled out from hollow spaces formed by the beams of the roof.
The best buildings of Manila were destroyed, among them the palace of the capitán-general; the Casas Consistoriales, or town halls; Intendencia; Aduana; Audiencia; the tobacco factories; the Consejo de Administración; the churches of Sto. Domingo, San Francisco, San Juan de Dios, Quiapo, Santa Cruz, and the Recollects; the Carenero; Meisic & Fortin quarters; the Military Hospital; the Divisoria Market; the city jail; and many others. The Tribunal de Comercio, the Dominican Convent, and the Colleges of San José, Santa Catalina, and Sta. Rosa were uninhabitable. Only the San Agustln Convent, constructed by a nephew of Herrera, the architect of El Escorial, remained standing.
"The stone bridge was very much weakened. The dead numbered more than three hundred; the injured were approximately of the same number. The garrison had fifteen dead, eighty-eight injured, and forty-one with contusions. Forty-six buildings of the state collapsed, leaving twenty-five more greatly damaged.
"The number of ruined private and public buildings rose to 570 and 530 respectively.
"Public as well as private losses in Manila were incalculable. Almost all public buildings were destroyed completely. The terrified residents of Manila abandoned the city and transferred to houses made of wood and nipa in the neighboring small towns. We went to live in Malate. Rent, which is normally very cheap, rose because many people came to rent houses. Five days later, there was another earthquake. It destroyed the buildings greatly damaged by the unforgettable and unfortunate earthquake of 3 June. For a long time, life was a continuous torment for the residents of Manila. Every night, they dreamt about earthquakes. Since then, many who escaped from sure death on that day have feared earthquakes more than all calamities put together."
"And did the earthquake last long?"
"Half a minute; if it had lasted longer, the city would have disappeared completely. What a terrible scene, Fonseca, my friend! I still seem to hear the agonized voices of the wretched souls trapped in the rubble, begging for water, for the love of God, and imploring that they be extracted from the tomb. Nothing could be done for them because a slight movement of the rubble would hasten their death."
"And are earthquakes frequent?"
"The famous ones recorded in the history of this country are those that occurred in 1600, 1645, 1658, 1754, 1824, and 1852. Tremors, like what you have just witnessed, cause only a good scare. When Mother Spain learned of the enormous damage caused by the earthquake of 1863, a fund-raising campaign was launched in the Peninsula and in the Antilles to help the victims. The public treasury raised P2 million. The longest known earthquake occurred on 1 October 1869. It lasted for two minutes, and its movement was oscillatory; it did not produce any damage. I assure you that such tremors leave me sleepless. I detest them with all my heart."
"Alvaredo, you have to return to Manila, in case something happened to your house," said a woman who was listening to his story.
"As you wish," he answered. Everybody got ready. The happy caravan that had spent a very pleasant time in Pandacan returned sadly to Manila, bringing with them the horrors of 3 June 1863. They feared another misfortune. When they arrived, they learned that the earthquake had not caused any harm to anybody.
"Mr. Fonseca," Alvaredo said, "we trust that you will come to see us often."
"I will be most glad to do so."
"If you wish to stay for dinner, don't leave; but I warn you that I eat a moderate dinner. At night, food should be easily digested. I do not take anything except tinola with fried rice and poached eggs. Usually I alternate it with puspas and basa-basa, which are all excellent stews to maintain a light stomach. Are you interested?"
"No sir; I am extremely grateful but I am going home. I feel I should rest."
"Be very careful with the native lasses," Chata advised.
"After having met you, the prettiest natives look ugly to me."
"What a flatterer you are!"
"I am just being fair."
The excursionists bade goodbye to one another. Out in the street, he heard Alvaredo shouting after him:
"Always sleep dressed and with the light on in the dormitory. If there's an earthquake, go down to the mezzanine. You are new here, so it is important for you to know what to do."
"Thanks, I'll do that."
"Come on," Fonseca said to himself while walking toward the inn. "This matanda is something and he has two daughters who are well worth the pain of enduring his idle talk. He was not a bad recommendation. I will visit him frequently. I like Niña Chata very much. She was so pretty in her mestiza dress, with her hair unbraided! I have never seen anything like her before. And how well she dances! Come now, I should think about other things, I should not go crazy over her."
The beautiful image of Chata continued to haunt Fonseca. Perhaps he had fallen in love with the beautiful Filipina.