A poignant return to quake site for USAID
BAGUIO CITY—The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) celebrated its 50th year in the Philippines by returning to a 21-year-old tragedy.
The American aid group commissioned a marker recalling the July 16, 1990, earthquake that killed five USAID workers at the Nevada Hotel here. The hotel had since been replaced by a cluster of bars and restaurants called Nevada Square.
Gerry Porta, 47, the lone survivor among USAID workers there, returned to honor his late colleagues alongside American Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. and Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan.
Last year, Domogan stopped authorizing earthquake memorials to allow local residents to move on.
Gloria Diño-Steele, USAID country manager, said the agency has poured almost $4 billion into projects in the Philippines since 1961, but she said it was this visit to the site of the old Nevada Hotel where their tasks seemed more poignant.
Thomas credited Porta, the USAID democracy in governance officer, as one of the earthquake’s unheralded heroes.
Porta said the USAID fatalities were among the 60 people who attended the agency’s financial management workshop at the Nevada Hotel in 1990. He said 29 participants died, including USAID acting comptroller Richard Finley, Lino dela Cruz, Susan Doria, Liza Isidro and Ed Plata.
The upper floors of the hotel collapsed when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Baguio and the rest of Luzon on July 16, 1990.
Porta said he was spared because he was in the bathroom at that time.
He recalled talking with Alice Laya (wife of former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Jaime Laya) over a project in Marinduque, “when I excused myself to go to the bathroom at the exact moment when the building started to shake.”
“I discovered later on that I was the only one to survive,” he said.
Porta said he crawled out and volunteered to go back to help rescue other victims. “I was obviously very scared,” he said.
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