The Explainer: Red October

That was a scene from “Empire of the Sun,” where the main character is separated from his family during the fall of Shanghai.

With 11 dead,  dozens wounded, hundreds more eyewitnesses or in the vicinity, the explosion at Glorietta 2 is a tragedy that has deeply shocked the nation.

Tonight, we pause to remember the victims, sift through the testimony of eyewitnesses, and also try to begin picking up the pieces.

Most of all, perhaps we can, all of us, begin to identify the lessons we can learn from this tragedy.


I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. What happened


In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address, and told an America frightened by the Great Depression who their real enemy was.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.

With FDR’s words in mind, let’s start off by pointing out that right now, there’s a lot more we don’t know about what happened at G2, than we actually do know.

Courtesy of Inquirer interactive, here is a bird’s eye view of the Glorietta complex.


Let’s try to orient ourselves with this image as we tackle the first thing we have to do. And that is, to piece together what other people saw.

Here is what we know:

It happened after lunch, but way before rush hour. There was an explosion; there was heavy damage; there was panic and in some places, stampedes.

And this is what we know from eyewitness accounts. These eyewitness accounts are everyhere, I spent two days compiling the ones that appeared on line. And some others, too.


Of Law & Badminton


G2Loud explosionVery intense shake like intensity 10 quake


G2Ceiling almost fell; smoke; explosion in direction of Park Square and not Activity AreaLoud bangGlorietta trembled like an earthquake
Welcome to My Life’s mother


G2Ceiling of floor below her collapsed; orange plastic pipes fell, tooLoud blast
As The World Turns


G2Smoke filled areaDid not feel blastSmoke smelled of gunpowder or firecrackers
Meet Joebaks


G2 (restaurant)Did not hear anythingDid not feel blast


Bo’s Café, G2Felt like explosion was above them
My Life… Hayds


G1Some thing fell from ceilingBig BoomFelt like earthquake
Just Walk Away


GoldcrestLoud explosion; sound of breaking glass


Park Square 2, 3rd Floor near Timezone entranceCloud of smoke seeped from G2Loud explosion
Lost in my Headspace


G4, near JollibeeGlass wall of Jollibee shookFelt shockwave go through his chest


Away from G2Something that sounded like thunder
Flipflopping Around Town’s MomAway from G2Loud bangFelt vibration
Bryanton Post’s friend, Melissa


Via Mare, LandmarkImpact so strong, felt in Landmark, like mall took a rollercoaster ride
O-C Mumzie


Gold’s GymThick clouds of smoke (pulverized cement)Sound of exploding glass secondBuilding rocked, first
Standing on the Edge


En route to FX Terminal near GreenbeltFriend heard loud boom
Sunny Side Up


Inside the mallWhole place trembled
Anonymous father, quoted in Websaytco.com


G2, 3rd floorHeard a blastCeiling fell on him
..My Life…


Outside G2Debris flew and smashed Gerry’s Grill glassLoud explosion
Gabriel Sison (news item)GoldcrestSomething exploded 10 meters away
ChadG4Noticed crowd panic
Disney Cute Land


Park Square 2 walkwayDebris falling down; smoke
Eyewitness 1, M6750 Ayala Ave., 16th FloorNo noiseBuilding shuddered
Eyewitness 2, FBldg. across street from GB 5Windows rattled violently
Eyewitness 3, FGB 3No noiseFelt 2 shockwaves
Eyewitness 4, MInside Starbuck’s G2Saw no flameHeard an explosionFelt violent shakingSmelled smoke; delay before smoke came out


What do these eyewitness accounts tell us?

They seem to indicate only a few things:

1. Generally, only people close to the explosion heard it; some heard two explosions.

2. Everyone felt something like a strong earthquake; some felt two jolts.

3. No one seems to have seen flames or a fire.

4. Some described the smoke as smelling like fireworks or New Year’s. No one described smelling chemical fumes.


Next, besides what people recall, there’s what we’ve been able to see, particularly from pictures.

We’re going to show you these pictures, now. Try to look at them with fresh eyes, that is, look beyond the awful damage and ask yourself, what might the damage itself tell us?

And as you look at the pictures, spare a thought for what’s been lost, in lives and property, as you also listen to a song that became a popular favorite during World War II:



Sammy Fain / Irving Kahal


I’ll be seeing you

In all the old familiar places

That this heart of mine embraces

All day and through

In that small cafe

The park across the way

The children’s carrousel

The chestnut trees

The wishing well


I’ll be seeing you

In every lovely summer’s day

In everything that’s light and gay

I’ll always think of you that way


I’ll find in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I’ll be looking at the moon

But I’ll be seeing you


I’ll be seeing you

In every lovely summer’s day

In everything that’s light and gay

I’ll always think of you that way


I’ll find in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I’ll be looking at the moon

But I’ll be seeing you


What do these photographs tell us?

Let’s focus, in particular, on this dramatic front page photo from last Sunday’s Inquirer.

The photograph seems to tell us the blast was strong but also, that it was mainly directed upwards, and not outwards; and if you remember the eyewitness accounts, where only those very close to the blast heard anything, it may be that the explosion itself was muffled by something, perhaps the floor.

And the accounts of those who say they heard two explosions might suggest that after the initial explosion, the second noise was the ground floor giving way, upwards, as the pressure of the blast moved upwards.

A blast on the first floor itself might have dissipated its energy sideways, for example.

But this is just amateur conjecture from me and others. Let’s be clear that we’re not suggesting they’re facts. But they do indicate that we have to try to make sense of what took place, because when official explanations are given, we all have to reconcile the official explanation with what we’ve pieced together.

Sunday night on his blog, Dean Jorge Bocobo pointed to


The website of a consultancy company called Gexcon, which investigates gas explosions. The company has its investigation handbook on line, and I’d like to share with you, the procedures they outline for investigating explosions.

The company emphasizes the need to thoroughly document the damage and the things that were moved, displaced, or distorted because of the explosion.

Among the things that are analyzed, according to the Explosion Handbook of Gexcon, is to analyze the trajectory, or direction, fragments flew, from the explosion.

For example, according to Gexcon, if the arrows show the direction parts of Motor Casing A, which had flown 15 meters from its original position. The direction the parts flew,tells us “that combustible gas has intruded into Motor A and that part of the explosion has been an explosion under Casing A”. According to Gexcon this told them that the “explosion has most likely been the initial explosion and damage also tells us that the probable ignition location was under the casing or near Motor A.”

Now look at the image for Motor Casing B. According to Gexcon, “Deflection of a ductile structure is another damage indicator”. In layman’s terms, bending or distortion in a bendable surface can suggest where the explosion took place. According to Gexcon, Motor Casing B was deflected.  To Gexcon this means that “the explosion load must be from the outside”.

Another thing to look at, would be pipes. Pipes, as Gexcon explained in this next illustration,, or panels that have deflected can be used to estimate the loads from the explosion.

This chart shows the activities that have to take place, often at the same time, after an explosion occurs.

Gexcon also says that damaged glass can be used to estimate  a blast wave, i.e. size of cloud and maximum pressure in an explosion area.

All these things can then be interpreted by a professional team of investigators. Gexcon says a good team usually includes an explosion expert, a structural expert and plant operation experts, in the case of industrial accidents.

This chart shows the steps investigators undertake, to come up with their findings as to the cause of a blast. Evidence of various kinds is gathered, and compared. A fragment map is prepared. Similar incidents are compared,too. Eyewitness accounts and the documentation of the damage, are surveyed.

Among other things, it may even be necessary to conduct simulations to determine which possible cause is more likely than others.

When we return, having reviewed what people went through, let’s ask ourselves, what’s next?


II. What to do


That was a scene from “9/11” the famous documentary by brother Jules and Gedeon Naudet.

I was in a stampede once. It was at a birthday party at a disco several years before the Ozone disaster. The stampede was caused by some idiots deciding to pop balloons in the ceiling with their cigarettes. A sheet of flame burst forth; people screamed, then ran; the human tide was unstoppable, unthinking, and potentially as fatal as the fire itself.

What was worse, was that there was only one exit, which could only be reached down a steep flight of stairs. People ran, and as they ran into each other, the crowd kept compressing and yet moving towards the stairs.

Eventually a friend and I had to squeeze to the side and let people sweep past us, otherwise we would have fallen down the stairs. We finally made it out, frightened and shaken.

When the explosion took place in Glorietta, panic ensued.

I’d like you to watch this video clip, recorded by this blogger:

On his cellphone.

It’s a disturbing video to watch, and while I’m pretty sure you’ve seen it, but please watch it with fresh eyes.


Let me ask our scouts here, to tell us their reactions.

Guys, can you tell me what lessons we can learn from this video?

A tragedy like Glorietta explosion serves as a reminder that we have to do our best to keep calm in emergency situations.

FEMA, an agency of the US government, has a list of do’s and don’t’s in case of an explosion. Let’s review their advice.


If there is an explosion, you should:

Get under a sturdy table or desk if things are falling around you. When they stop falling, leave quickly, watching for obviously weakened floors and stairways. As you exit from the building, be especially watchful of falling debris.

Leave the building as quickly as possible. Do not stop to retrieve personal possessions or make phone calls.

Do not use elevators.


Once you are out:

Do not stand in front of windows, glass doors, or other potentially hazardous areas.

Move away from sidewalks or streets to be used by emergency officials or others still exiting the building.


If you are trapped in debris:

If possible, use a flashlight to signal your location to rescuers.

Avoid unnecessary movement so you don’t kick up dust.

Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand. (Dense-weave cotton material can act as a good filter. Try to breathe through the material.)

Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can hear where you are.

If possible, use a whistle to signal rescuers.

Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.


I’d also like to suggest some lessons that I believe we can pick up, from the eyewitness accounts of those at the blast.

The first is, that we have to keep vigilant for anything suspicious. Don’t be afraid to calmly and quietly inform the authorities if you see anything out of place. It could be a suspicious package, or what you believe might be lax security. Either way, tell the authorities about it.

The second is, to be always be mindful of the exits and places you might have to pass, in case of an emergency.

The third, is that whether you’re with a group of friends on an outing, or at your place of work, you should also have a designated place to meet each other, in case of an emergency, if you get separated. Try to remain there, if it’s safe, until you have a clearer idea of what’s going on.

Have a system in place to inform your loved ones of where you are; keep your parents and friends posted as to where you are at any given time. Do your best to always have identification on you, in a secure place.

Take a first aid course, and consider lending your assistance to organizations like the Red Cross. Their number is a good one to have on hand, because in emergency situations, the Red Cross often serves as a clearing house for information.

In an emergency situation, people will react to danger in different ways. Sometimes you’ll have to be patient because of how different reactions can be. Some people will be angry, others paralyzed by fear, some will cry, some will even try to crack jokes. The best rule of thumb is to keep informed, but to make sure you are getting reliable information.

At this point, I’d like to invite our guest to join us, and share with us any additional pointers he may have…

…When we return, how our authorities respond to disasters, and what we can expect from the authorities –and how we can help.


My view


Tonight instead of my view, I would like to give way to Patricia, who expressed best of all, certainly better than I, what I believe to be in many a person’s thoughts these days. These words are from her Sunday column. Pat?

I’m sure it’s the same for many people, that necessary varnish of indifference, of philosophical acceptance that allows us to wake up in the morning and go plodding off to work—if we bleed for every man, woman and child who died violently or disappeared in the last few years, we’ll have nothing left.

But I don’t think that distance can ever be there again. When the soldiers were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf, we were disgusted, violated, but we could push past it and say it’s the risk a soldier takes. It is the same for the activists and journalists, the leaders and politicians. They’re only names, mourned now, replaced by someone else’s story tomorrow. But what’s different about the Glorietta blast, in the reactions and confessions and the dozens of entries in blogs all over the Internet, is the uniform mix of fear and relief. There is no forgetting this one. The words that are repeated, in murmurs and whispers down the alleyways of cyberspace are the same. It could have been my brother. It could have been my boyfriend. It could have been my mother. It could have been me.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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