The Philippines: After the morning’s earthquake, a long night for frightened children

By Ned Olney, Country Director Designate, the Philippines

15 October: In the early hours of this morning, a deadly 7.2. magnitude earthquake rocked Central Visayas, Philippines. The tremors were felt across Central Visayas and as far as the coastlines of Mindanao. No one here will forget this day.

STC focus group in the Philippines in August. STC has a longstanding programme of Disaster Risk Reduction in the emergency-prone country.
STC focus group in the Philippines in August. STC has a longstanding programme of Disaster Risk Reduction in the emergency-prone country.

Hundreds of aftershocks were triggered across the area. Despite the public holiday, I was on the phone with our local partners and staff assessing the extent of the damage and the preparations needed to be done in the field to respond to the most vulnerable children and their families.

As I expected, the news first focused on the damage to infrastructure and the estimated costs. Yet what struck me the most was not the dreadful images of collapsed buildings but the story of a child killed in a stampede as people panicked and ran for their lives. It was difficult to imagine what the child must have felt seconds before he finally gave in, as no one was there to pick him up.

Children are most vulnerable

During earthquakes or in any other emergency situation, children are always the most vulnerable. They are scared and confused. They can often be left behind. I especially fear for the children living in informal settlements. They are so susceptible to disaster.

Many roofs have been damaged in the earthquake; and as the night approaches, children in Central Visayas must face a difficult dilemma: to sleep under their roof, where they will be sheltered but may be in danger from aftershocks. That is, of course, if they can sleep at all.

Even more than their immediate suffering,  the psychosocial wellbeing of these children concerns me. They could be suffering from distress after the shock of today’s earthquake. The aftershocks likely to occur overnight could also be extremely frightening for them – especially for those children (and this will probably be many of them) who have not experienced an earthquake of this magnitude. Save the Children’s team are now preparing to deploy and respond to these children and their families. They are in need of our help and we will be there to provide it.

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