Tromba Marina Statue (c)

Olag Stories: The Catastrophe of December 27

The Catastrophe of December 27

by: Olag Zelasnog

Old Map of Luzon showing Baler and Casiguran on the right side.
Old Map of Luzon showing Baler and Casiguran on the right side.

December 27 was headline news the world over, that the quake that caused the tsunami demolished the nations around the periphery of the Indian Ocean. Not to mention the lost of lives and the severity of its economic impact, Aceh province in the island of Sumatra in Indonesia just 90 miles from the epicenter received a double dose of destruction. In the resort islands of Phuket and Phi-phi in Thailand, almost everything standing was swamped by the onrushing waves with tremendous velocity. And Sri Lanka, an island nation south of India, were turned into fields of debris and devastation.

But long forgotten and unknown to most of us, 269 years ago on the same date, 27 December 1735, a similar catastrophic event occurred in the town of Baler. It was in the early morning around 2:30 that the town was engulfed by tsunami* or better known during the early years of the Spanish Missionaries as ‘tromba marina’, with tremendous proportion without warning, and within an hour the town was gone. Fray Jose de San Rafael, the missionary of Casiguran who was then on vacation in Baler and few accounted families** survived the deluge by swimming to the near by hill of Point Baja (Ermita). On his descriptive account of the destruction: “I was awakened by the Sacristan who informed me that the convent was moving, I rushed to the window to find out, and was shaken of what I had witnessed. The convent was being carried by the rushing sea. When tide receded, there was no sign of civilization that remained except the barren ground littered with scattered dead bodies and houses sheared clean by the onrushing waves with the exception of a few settlement further inland.”

The tsunami that struck Baler differed with the present day tsunami, that in 1735, the only impacted area was mysteriously the town of Baler. Mission de San Miguel (Dipaculao, circa 1719) northwest of Baler did not experience the horrendous calamity, nonetheless, situated on the same shoreline. In Casiguran, ninety kilometers north of Baler did not even learn about destruction until sometimes later.

It was not long however, that a new Baler was built under the leadership of the parish priest with the help of the surviving families situated in an area belonging to Sitio Sabali and located a league away from the obliterated town.

What was significant about the present day disaster – it happened on the same date the old town Baler mysteriously vanished from the map. Is that not weird? I come to think if it!


* Tsunami is a series of large waves usually generated by a violent undersea earthquakes. The word tsunami (pronounced tsoo-na’-mee) is composed of the Japanese words “tsu” (which means harbor) and “nami”(which means “wave”)

** Based upon the story of Mang Alejandro P. Ferreras in 1935; some of the tidal waves surviving families were: the Angara, Bihasa, Bitong, Carrasco, Lumasac and Poblete.

*** The story was taken from; Fray Felix de Huerta, O.F.M.: Estado geografico, topografico, estadistico, historico, religioso de la Santa y Apostolico Provincia de San Gregorio Magno “Baler, Distrito del Principe” 1855, Manila, pp 279-282

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