Philippines - Aid Worker's Diary: 'I thought it was the end of the world."

A magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit Visayas, the central Philippines group of islands, Oct. 15, causing widespread destruction. Maryann (Mai) Zamora, a World Vision communications specialist in the Philippines, has frequently told the stories of disaster survivors. Here she reflects on her own experience of the quake and how she has overcome fear to serve earthquake survivors.

It was Tuesday morning. I was asleep when a voice called my name: “Mai, wake up.” I thought it was just a dream; then I suddenly heard a thunderous noise.

Everybody in the neighborhood was shouting. People were in a panic.

While I headed downstairs, the room was vibrating and the walls were swinging. Everything around me plunged down — TVs, books, cabinets, and my own stuff.  

I tried to compose myself to go down safely. My housemates all looked so scared. Others were shaking. Most of us still wore our sleeping clothes.

I rent a small apartment in Cebu, Philippines. It’s a wooden house built more than a decade ago. I felt strong shaking inside the house, and it took me awhile to realize that it was an earthquake. I felt the strongest shaking for more than a minute. It sounded like a bulldozer trying to demolish houses. Strong aftershocks kept coming almost every minute.

I got so scared. I thought about my family far from me. I thought it was the end of the world.

After a few minutes, fire trucks and ambulances began passing by on the streets. Debris fell from tall buildings. Many structures were cracked and aftershocks kept coming. I started to feel dizzy.

A lot of people standing in an open space were panicked, looking up at buildings 10 to 15 stories high. Some of them cried, others held their family members or friends, and some walked in circles, probably thinking, “Is this real?”


It’s not safe to stay at our apartment anymore; my colleagues and I evacuated to a safe place in Cebu. We stayed at the house of a colleague overnight, but I didn’t sleep well. I wish I had a button to switch off the aftershocks. They are scary.

Monitoring the news on social media, I learned that the epicenter of the quake was in Bohol. The damage there was horrible. I saw pictures of devastation on Facebook. I’ve traveled in Bohol many times to visit World Vision programs, so the loss and devastation broke my heart.

After five years supporting various disaster responses for World Vision, this one gave me the most distress. I’ve kept on, sharing resources through social media and being a media spokesperson, but honestly, I trembled the whole time. I am thankful I survived the quake.

Disaster assessment

The day after the quake, World Vision’s response team in Visayas was deployed to conduct a needs assessment. We were all scared from our experience, but for the sake of the families we didn’t let fear stop us.

We witnessed all kinds of devastation — collapsed buildings, churches, houses; the retrieval of bodies; and anxious families. It was emotionally tough.

After the quake, families felt safer sleeping on the streets than in their homes. They lined up tents on a cold, dark night. Some are staying in the rice fields, and others are at evacuation centers.

One mother told me, “I thank God for my second life. My children need me."

I met a child survivor who was tending a cow when the quake happened. “I was crawling, and the cow was running all around. I kept crawling until the earthquake stopped. I hugged my mother tightly when I arrived home,” the 12-year-old says.

I am so sorry for those who lost their loved ones. I pity children facing the challenge of living at an evacuation center. I worry about families with nothing to eat and survivors who are anxious of their safety because of aftershocks. 

Despite these challenges, the survivors keep up hope. They line up patiently for clean drinking water. They help each other, too.

I wish I could explain all I’ve seen and felt since the quake, but it’s just too much. At the same time, the plight of each survivor I meet encourages me to help. I feel scared of the aftershocks, but I don’t want to quit. I’ll stay with my team. I won’t stop until I see the smiles of the children again.