The Great Lucena Panic


I searched online and could not find any article written about “The Great Lucena Panic” that happened in 1995 just right about a week or two after typhoon Rosing (international name: typhoon Angela). My family and I were there and I wonder if anyone else remember that night. It was a glimpse of what it would be like and how humans will behave in the face of an apocalypse.

I was only 14 years old. My Dad was in Laguna at the time and my family were temporarily living with my aunt in her house @ Merchan Street in downtown Lucena City, because we just lost our home from the flashflood of Typhoon Rosing.

Right around 10pm, most people were already asleep because of a city-wide power outage. When all the sudden, we were awoken by car sirens and soldiers/cops banging at our door. They said, “Everybody get out of your house and evacuate now! Don’t even bring anything!! Mt. Banahaw has erupted!!”

What my eyes saw that night was like a scene right before an apocalypse.

I have never seen that many people running around downtown Lucena — in panic, ever. There were cops, soldiers and evacuation trucks everywhere. Gunshots, car sirens and people screaming in panic. There were brawls and stampede by the evacuation trucks. I saw some guys trying to take the guns from the soldiers — it was pure chaos!

We didn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, one of my aunt’s neighbors, the Simon family were sitting outside of their house. Everyone of them were dressed nice while the mother is inside and seeing what else they could bring with them just in case. The head of their household, the father, was sitting calmly on a chair and right beside him were his children. He looked so aristocractic, sitting straight up in a light buttoned shirt. He looked like a congressman or an ambassador to a UN summit.

I remember somebody asking him, “Aren’t you guys evacuating? What are you waiting for??? Get moving!!”

But the father said, we are going to wait and observe. I don’t think Banahaw has erupted. Look at the skies and listen. The skies would not be this clear if it has erupted, the ground will shake and we will hear loud rumbles.

What he said and that whole scene is etched in my brain. A thinking man in the midst of a city in chaos, fear and panic.

But while I found it admirable, my family and I went on the side of caution and acted based on the information received.

A week or so before that, we just survived a flashflood that flattened our whole neighborhood and turned the railroads into spaghetti. We survived it by quickly acting upon hearing my uncle’s voice yelling on top of the hill where the railroad sat, “Everybody evacuate now!!!”
Within seconds after I heard my uncle, I saw the water on our floor. I took 5 steps to get my baby brother and my backpack — and the water was already by my knees. I grabbed my baby brother and my two sisters and ran up to the railroad up on the hill. We ran towards the direction of the train station which is the higher ground. As we were running, the hill was eroding, and the ground where we previously stepped on were vanishing so quickly. One step missed or a few seconds late, we would have been taken by the flood. Right behind us, the railroad made of steel looked as though it was as soft as spaghetti — the flood water was bending them like they were not made of iron/steel.

When we got to the train station where we were safe, and was looking back towards the direction of where our house was. That’s the only time I felt fear — the thought that we could have all been swept to the sea and died — sent shivers down to my bones.

So, naturally, after that experience — we were still in the state of fear and seeing the whole city in panic — we were not going to just observe and wait.

My aunt and her family were able to get in on one of the evacuation trucks, but my family and I couldn’t because of the stampede.

We knew there was no way we could get in, so we went to the tallest building in the town at the time (Ocean Palace Mall). But the guards wouldn’t let us in. So we went to the capitol building next.

There were a lot of people surrounding the capitol building, everyone were trying to find a way in. Built in 1908, in massive pure concrete, with neoclassical art-deco architecture, I heard grown up people talking that this building would be the only building left standing when Lucena City sinks under magma and water. Mt. Banahaw is the source of water for several provinces in our region, so the locals believe that Mt. Banahaw will one day erupt and spew out massive amount of water that will put the whole city under water.

After about 2 hours of chaos, we heard the authorities on megaphones announcing that Mt. Banahaw did not erupt and that it was a false alarm.

What happened was, someone saw there were smoke/steam coming off Mt. Banahaw (which is about 42 kilometers or 26 miles from Lucena City, my hometown). That person told somebody and that somebody told another person until it somehow reached a radio station that broke out the news that Mt. Banahaw had just erupted. Upon hearing the news, the soldiers at Camp Nakar (Southern Luzon Command) together with the Philippine National Police (PNP) immediately mobilized to evacuate the people of Lucena City.

That was a hell of a night specially for people who had just survived the flashflood. I heard that there were people that died that night because of the stampede and the brawl but I cannot confirm.

If you were there in Lucena City that night, how was it for you and your family?