Chapter 1c

Earthquakes Icon

April 28, 2022

Manila is situated on both sides of the river Pasig. The town itself, surrounded with walls and ramparts, with its low tiled roofs and scattered towers. It appeared like some ancient European fortress.

On June 3, 1863 at 7:31pm an earthquake shook the preparations for the festival of Corpus Christi.

The firmest buildings reeled visibly, walls crumbled, and beams snapped in two. The dreadful shock lasted half a minute. But this little interval was enough to:

  • turn the whole town into a mass of ruins, and
  • bury alive hundreds of people.

A letter of the Governor-General states that:

  • the cathedral, the government-house, the barracks, and all the public buildings of Manila were entirely destroyed
  • the few private houses which remained standing threatened to fall in.

Later accounts speak of 400 killed and 2,000 injured. The estimate was a loss at $8m.

46 public and 570 private buildings were thrown down. 28 public, 528 private buildings were nearly destroyed. All the houses left standing were more or less injured.

At the same time, an earthquake of 40 seconds’ duration occurred at Cavite, the naval port of the Philippines, and destroyed several buildings.

3 years later, the Duke of Alençon (Luzon and Mindanao; Paris, 1870) found the traces of the catastrophe everywhere.

Three sides of the principal square of the city, in which formerly stood the government-house, the cathedral, and the town-house, were lying like dust heaps overgrown with weeds. All the large public edifices were “temporarily” constructed of wood; but no one appeared to have thought of building anything permanent.

Manila is very often subject to earthquakes.

Year Casualties Comments
1601 This was the most fatal
Nov 30, 1610
Nov 30, 1645 600-3,000 The monastery, the church of the Augustines, and that of the Jesuits, were the only public buildings which remained standing
Aug 20, 1658
1675
1699
1796
1824
1852
1863

Smaller shocks, which suddenly set the hanging lamps swinging, occur very often and generally remain unnoticed. The houses are on this account generally of but one story, and the loose volcanic soil on which they are built tends to lessen the violence of the shock. Their heavy tiled roofs, however, appear very inappropriate under the circumstances.

Earthquakes are also of frequent occurrence in the provinces, but they, as a rule, cause so little damage, owing to the houses being constructed of timber or bamboo, that they are never mentioned,

M. Alexis Perrey gives, in the memoirs of the Dijon Academy for 1850, a catalogue, collected with much diligence from every accessible source, of the earthquakes which have visited the Philippines, and particularly Manila.

But the accounts, except of the most important, are very scanty, and the dates of their occurrence very unreliable.

Of the minor shocks, only a few are mentioned, those which were noticed by scientific observers accidentally present at the time.

Aduarte mentions a tremendous earthquake which occurred in 1610.

“Towards the end of St. Andrew's Day November 1610, the most violent earthquake happened. It affected Manila up to the extreme end of New Segovia (in the far north of Luzon), a distance of 200 leagues. It caused great destruction over the whole area ; in the province of Ilocos it swallowed up palm trees, and left only the tops of their branches above the earth's surface; its shock dashed hills on the opposite sides of valleys together, threw down many buildings, and killed many people.
Its fury was greatest in New Segovia, where it rent mountains asunder and created new lake basins. The earth threw up immense fountains of sand and vibrated so terribly that the people, unable to stand, laid down and fastened themselves to the ground, as if they had been on a ship in a stormy sea. In the range inhabited by the Mendayas, a mountain fell in, crushing an entire village. An immense portion of the cliff sank into the river. The stream that was bordered by hills came to a level with them. Waves, like those of the ocean, arose from the riverbed as if lashed by a furious wind. Those edifices which were of stone suffered the most damage, our church and the convent fell in.."