Eleven years ago, on February 6, 2012, Cebu was rocked by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake, one of the strongest shocks ever recorded in the island. The quake caused damage to buildings, roads, bridges, and power lines. It also triggered landslides and aftershocks that killed dozens of people and injured hundreds more.
But what made this day even more memorable for many Cebuanos was not the earthquake itself, but the panic and chaos that ensued after some people mistook the name “Chona Mae” for “Tsunami”.
“It was the epic tale of the misheard and misinterpreted name of Chona Mae which sounds like “Tsunami.”” wrote Marel Baluyos on Sugbo.ph.
The rumor started when someone was calling out for their daughter “Chona Mae” near the coast. Some people heard it as “Tsunami” and thought that a huge wave was coming to downtown Cebu.
“Because it was literally one of the strongest earthquakes in Cebu, and the island is geographically surrounded by waters, other people basically “connected the dots” and thought a tsunami would come thereafter.” wrote Ram Mancelita on VisMin.ph.
The false alarm spread like wildfire through word of mouth, text messages, social media posts, and radio announcements. People panicked and ran on the streets, some walked miles to higher ground, some prepared to evacuate, some made last calls to their loved ones.
“And all that just because someone was calling out for their daughter “Chona Mae.”” wrote Rosalie Abatayo on Cebu Daily News.
There was no tsunami and people eventually realized it was a mistake. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) issued a statement that there was no threat of a tsunami from the earthquake. The local government also clarified that there was no need to evacuate.
The event became a viral story and a source of laughter and embarrassment for many Cebuanos who shared their experiences on social media.
“Every time this story comes up, everyone just laughs out loud because this situation is just too funny when you look back on what everyone did just to be disappointed by that mistake.” wrote Baluyos.
Some of the funny and absurd stories include people carrying their refrigerators, televisions, gas tanks, pets, and even coffins to higher ground; people wearing life jackets, helmets, or swimming attire; people praying in churches or chapels; people buying candles, matches, or flashlights; people leaving their cars or motorcycles behind; and people asking where Chona Mae was or who she was.
The event also sparked memes, jokes, songs, poems, comics, cartoons, and even merchandise featuring Chona Mae or Tsunami.