Tuesday, July 10, 2007
STO. DOMINGO, ALBAY—AN unexpected deluge of evacuees has overwhelmed two evacuation centers here ahead of an eruption of Mayon volcano.
Residents of four villages fled their homes after thick blasts of ash rose from the volcano on Friday.
As a result, the Municipal Disaster Coordinating Council (MDCC) was forced to open the San Andres resettlement site, one of Sto. Domingo’s two evacuation centers, to accommodate residents from four villages.
Vice Mayor Edna Banda said the evacuation was premature because the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology had not raised the alert level on the volcano. Alert level three remains over Mayon.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, there were 299 families, or 1,524 persons, from four villages affected by ashfall, said Jukes Nuñez of the Albay Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council.
The affected villages are Sta. Misericordia, Fidel Surdita, San Isidro and Lidong.
According to Banda, the evacuation centers are still ill prepared to accommodate all fleeing residents. “There are problems with the water system and lighting,” she said.
She added that they did not have enough funds to provide for the needs of the evacuees.
MDCC action officer Romeo Cabria said there were only two evacuation centers which have to accommodate 9,323 persons or 2,095 families from five villages.
One evacuee, Beata Balingbing, 59, said she and her family would rather stay by the roadside than stay at the crowded evacuation centers.
“Our children usually got sick when we stayed in evacuation centers,” Balingbing said. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
STO. DOMINGO, ALBAY--EVACuation centers here were suddenly deluged with increasing numbers of evacuees fleeing their homes after thick ash clouds formed around Mt. Mayon due to another collapse of lava fragments on the volcanoes slopes on Friday.
Vice Mayor Edna Banda said the fleeing residents were accommodated in designated evacuation centers although the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) had not raised the volcano alert level to four.
Alert level three remained hoisted over Mt. Mayon.
The Municipal Disaster Coordinating Council (MDCC) was forced to open the San Andres resettlement site, one of the two evacuation centers in this town, to accommodate residents of four villages at the foot of Mt. Mayon.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, there were 299 families or 1,524 persons from four villages affected by ashfalls due to prevailing winds, said Jukes Nunez of the Albay Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council.
These villages were Sta. Misericordia, Fidel Surdita, San Isidro and Lidong.
According to Banda, the evacuation centers are inadequate to accommodate all affected residents.
Not enough evacuation centers
MDCC action officer Romeo Cabria said there were only two evacuation centers to accommodate 9,323 persons or 2,095 families from five affected villages.
"There are also problems with the water system and lighting. We also have insufficient calamity funds which we cannot spend for this disaster alone as we have to allot some amount for other anticipated disasters throughout this year," Banda said.
But Beata Balingbing, 59, said they would rather stay by the roadside than stay at the crowded evacuation centers.
"Our children usually got sick when we stayed in evacuation centers. Even during the 1993 eruption we stayed here in the shelter we built because it was near the town proper," Balingbing said.
Sto. Domingo is a predominantly agricultural town with an extensive quarrying industry along the Basud River at the foot of the 2,474-meter Mt. Mayon.
About 71 percent of its land area is planted with rice, coconut, abaca and other crops which are now threatened with devastation in case of severe ashfall.
The restive Mt. Mayon, one of the most active volcanoes in the country, has been spewing an increasing volume of lava since July 14 when the alert level was raised to three.
3-km lava trail
The lava trail on Thursday was measured at more than 3 km from the crater or at an elevation of 1,100 meters above sea level.
The effects of the lava flow, rockfalls and detaching lava fragments were still confined within the 6-km-radius permanent danger zone (PDZ).
The provincial board has declared areas within the 6-km PDZ and 7-km extended high-risk zone on the southeast quadrant covering the villages in Daraga, Albay; Legazpi City, and this town under a state of calamity.
Romeo Cabria, MDCC action officer, said relief goods could not yet be distributed to the evacuees until after the next five days.
He explained that they would have to spend the calamity fund wisely since the alert level had not yet been raised to four, the time when mandatory evacuation should start.
Sanitary toilets are still to be built in the area as the existing ones are not enough, the MDCC said. Lighting and water systems are also inadequate.
PDCC action officer Cedric Daep said the major threat to Sto. Domingo town were ashfalls and not lava flows and rockfalls.
Phivolcs has advised residents near areas facing the south-southeast portion of the volcano and within 7 km of the crater, particularly Barangays Mabinit, Bonga, Matanag, Buyuan and Miisi in Legazpi City, to prepare for evacuation.
Philvocs said the toe of the main lava flow was slowly advancing toward the southeast following the main Bonga gully.
Meanwhile, alert level 2 remained in effect over Mt. Bulusan although no seismic activity was detected in the past 24 hours. On the other hand, Taal Volcano in Batangas remained at alert level 1.
22 July 2006
By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
STO. DOMINGO, Albay—THURSday’s mushroom-shaped ash-cloud spooked residents living in two villages at the foot of Mayon volcano. Now the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has collected ash samples deposited on plant leaves in Barangay Fidel Surtida here, to subject them to scientific study.
Phivolcs director Renato Solidum Jr. said there was a need to document the composition of materials from the volcano to see if there were any changes.
“When we saw the huge ash cloud falling down the slope, we feared the volcano might explode, so we packed our things, secured the children in the family, and ran away,” said housewife Marissa Tolibas.
Tolibas, 24, of Barangay Lidong, was one of those who built temporary shelters at Sitio Suhoton in Barangay Calayucay after lava fragments collapsed on the slope of Mt. Mayon at 8 a.m. Thursday.
A Phivolcs bulletin issued yesterday morning said there was a continuing extrusion of lava from the summit crater of Mayon in the last 24-hour observation period.
A main lava flow had changed its course toward Mabinit Channel but some small flows were also seen along the Bonga Gully, the bulletin added.
Alert level 3 remains raised, which means residents just beyond the Permanent Danger Zone, especially in the southeast portion and facing Bonga Gully, should stay vigilant against the probability of an eruption and life-threatening pyroclastic flows.
22 July 2006
LEGAZPI CITY—UNIDENTIFIED PERSONS poured what appeared to be pesticide into a creek near Lafayette’s Rapu-Rapu project last Wednesday then sent out text messages saying that the project had a spill that has killed marine life.
“This is sabotage to scare people and is no different from the mercury hoax antimining and leftist groups carried out early this year,” Lafayette spokesperson lawyer Julito Sarmiento said yesterday.
“It is impossible for us to affect the environment at this time because we are only using water and non-mineralized ore at this stage in the test run and no chemicals whatsoever. We think the same groups who mounted the mercury hoax are behind this. Besides, we are being strictly monitored full time by DENR officials.”
In the apparent pesticide hoax, residents said the creek smelled of Thiodan.
Ananias Balato, a fisherman residing in the island, said the creek smelled strongly of pesticide early Wednesday that his son even threw up. The creek is outside the project and is accessible to anybody.
Sarmiento said the company is investigating the matter and has tightened its surveillance operations with the help of the surrounding community to prevent a similar attempt by antimining groups.
He asked the media to be vigilant and not to fall for desperate and irresponsible stunts to prevent a repeat of the mercury hoax.
“Some groups desperately want Lafayette not to resume operations at all costs either because they love the environment so much they do not care if people remain poor and uneducated, or maybe because it is precisely their goal to keep the poor poor to promote whatever advocacy they are pushing,” he said.
The text brigade had been traced to a priest in Rapu-Rapu, who was known to be antimining and among those who filed a civil suit against Lafayette Thursday at the Makati Regional Trial Court, said Sarmiento.
Sarmiento also pointed out that they already passed the first stage of the test-run and used only water to test the piping system.
The 30-day test-run, which is now on its second stage and on its 10th day, involves gravel and soil to test if the facilities can hold materials more than just water.
Luis Valdez, public information officer of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, said Lafayette passed the first stage of the test-run and Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes had already ordered the second stage of the test-run to start.
Fr. Felino Bugauisan, assistant parish priest of Sta. Florentino Church in Rapu-Rapu, said he had nothing to affirm or deny.
Bugauisan was among those who filed a petition signed by 800 individuals at a Makati court seeking a halt to the 30-day test-run that started July 10. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
21 July 2006
By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
STO. DOMINGO, ALBAY—MUSHROOM-shaped ash clouds which winds sent northeast toward this town at about 8 a.m. yesterday caused residents of the villages of Lidong and San Isidro here to panic and led to the voluntary evacuation of around 100 residents.
Romeo Cabria, Municipal Disaster Coordinating Council action officer, said the residents were first taken to the town’s gymnasium but the local government was planning to send them back home as the alert level had not been raised from 3.
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) senior science research specialist Eduardo Laguerta said what happened was a “collapse-type” of pyroclastic flow which caused the ash clouds.
He said lava “chunks” that had cooled and solidified earlier had broken off after more lava flowed from Mayon’s crater. This generated the ash clouds without there necessarily having been an explosion.
“It was not yet the major blast. The ash clouds did not come from the crater but from the lava fragments that collapsed downslope,” Laguerta said.
No evacuation yet
Jukes Nuñez of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council plans and operations division said no evacuation was ordered since the alert level remained at 3 of the 5-level warning system.
He said, however, that classes were suspended in Lidong and San Isidro because of the ashfall.
The 2,474-meter Mt. Mayon, meanwhile, continued to spew lava.
Tremor episodes increased to 404 in the past 24 hours from 250, which Phivolcs said could be associated with increasing lava extrusion, rockfalls and detaching lava fragments occurring within the 6-km permanent danger zone.
Sulfur dioxide emissions, which Laguerta said was one of the indicators of magma coming to the surface, were relatively higher yesterday than the normal level of 1,863 tons per day.
Farmer Eladio Echaluce, 85, said he was working in his field on the volcano’s southeastern slope when he heard a shout and saw someone pointing to a cloud of ash, The Associated Press reported.
“When I saw the cloud, I got scared and came down,” he said.
Another farmer, Loreto Aydaya, also rushed down carrying a sack of vegetables and leading his two water buffalo.
“I was scared because I was about a kilometer away,” he said.
Schoolteacher Jenny Perez said parents rushed to the Matanag Elementary School to get their children.
“I could not do anything, so I just dismissed my class,” she said.
Other residents packed their bags and kitchen utensils and waited on the roadside or inside their homes for village officials’ signal to evacuate. With an AP report
By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
LEGAZPI CITY—MT. MAYON’S LAHAR could be much more dangerous than that of Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales, which buried thousands of houses in 1991, due to the presence of big boulders on Mayon, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said yesterday.
Resident volcanologist Eduardo Laguerta said Mayon’s lahar would contain massive boulders which could wreak total havoc on anything on their path while that of Pinatubo only submerged the houses in lahar in the absence of the big boulders.
Aside from pyroclastic flows, lahar is one of the two major hazards of Mt. Mayon eruptions that the Albayanos should brace for, the Phivolcs official said.
Laguerta said that pryoclastic flows in past eruptions usually affect areas within the six-to-seven-kilometer PDZ only.
But he said there had been two occasions when Mt. Mayon’s pyroclastic flows reached beyond the six-kilometer-radius Permanent Danger Zone. One was during the 1814 eruption and the other, in 1897 when the pryoclastic flows even reached the sea in the Sto. Domingo, Albay area.
“What we have to invest upon more money in prevention is lahar since it is a long term and capricious hazard in any volcano. In Pinatubo, for instance, it took around 10 years before it subsided,” Laguerta said.
What is dangerous with lahar, he said, is that even if one were positioned 20 kilometers away from the volcano but were facing a channel in a low-lying area, one can be reached by the gushing lahar—depending on the volume and amount of rainfall.
After simmering down on Tuesday, Mayon again exhibited increased signs of restiveness with 250 tremor episodes monitored in the last 24 hours until 6 a.m. yesterday.
Phivolcs said sulfur dioxide emissions have increased to 2,157 tons per day as lava flows continued in the Bonga Gully, less than three kilometers from the crater.
“Seismic activity apparently resumed to high levels,” suggesting lava extrusion and rock falls, the Phivolcs said in its latest advisory.
“At this stage, Mayon continues its mild eruption with little or no explosions,” Phivolcs said.
Lava fragments were also observed to have reached farther downslope at least about four kilometers from the crater.
Phivolcs, however, assured that all flows and rockfalls were within the six-kilometer-radius PDZ.
Ash falls derived mainly from lava fragments may be experienced in areas beyond the PDZ due to prevailing winds.
“The public, however, is reminded that explosions are still very possible and the probability of life-threatening pyroclastic flows resulting from an explosive eruption remains high,” the Phivolcs warned.
“As time progresses, there is lesser time we have to wait before an explosive eruption occurs,” Laguerta said.
He noted that the parameters and signs observed yesterday in the Mt. Mayon were also observed in its past eruptions and they always led to a major eruption.
Farmers working on the lower slopes of the cone-shaped Mayon were warned yesterday to leave the slopes.
“We are worried about the people who remain in the permanent danger zone. There are livestock in there as well,” said regional disaster coordinating council official Angel Capili. With a report from B. S. Rivera and AFP
19 July 2006
LEGAZPI CITY—A 10-year-old boy who was allegedly declared dead by doctors at the Philippine General Hospital last month surprisingly turned up alive upon reaching their home in Barangay Puro here.
According to Dante Cardel, his son, Dante Jr., had been diagnosed earlier to have a brain tumor and that he was advised to bring his son to the PGH in Manila for medical treatment.
Dr. Vicente Tanchuling, the boy’s doctor here, said Dante Jr., fondly called Jun by his family, was diagnosed to have serious cerebral tumor and typhoid fever.
A brain tumor is the abnormal growth of tissue within the skull that occurs most commonly in children.
Cardel said their fares and expenses were shouldered by the Child Sponsorship for Community Development, Inc.
He told the Inquirer that they arrived at the PGH in the morning of June 21.
“At 10 a.m. that day, the doctors at the PGH said my son had very little chances of survival. That afternoon he was already dependent on the medical equipment attached to his body. At 4 p.m. he was proclaimed dead,” he said.
“The doctors said my son’s tumor had already burst inside his skull. At that point, my wife and I already accepted that he might be gone soon. When he was proclaimed dead, our relatives who were left here already prepared the house for his wake,” the elder Cardel added.
Dr. Michael Tee, assistant to the director for public affairs of the PGH, however, said the hospital did not at all declare Jun dead.
“We did not issue any certification that the child died. We recommended that the boy be subjected to an operation to decompress his tumor but the parents refused. What we did was let the parents sign an agreement that the hospital would not be accountable for anything that might happen to the child. We respected their decision,” Tee said.
That night of June 21, Cardel said they decided to bring Jun’s body home. They rode a van and took the 12-hour trip back. Along the way, he said, he and his wife held Jun by their arms.
Upon reaching Naga City, or after almost 10 hours of showing all signs of being dead, Cardel said he noticed his son’s chest turned warm.
“I noticed my son’s chest was warm but he did not show signs he was breathing. The rest of his body was still cold,” Cardel said.
When they reached their house at Barangay Puro two hours later, the house was already all set for Jun’s wake. But as his father was placing his dead son on the sofa, the boy suddenly moved.
“My son suddenly embraced me very tightly. In his weak voice, he was calling me ‘Papa.’ We were all surprised. His grandparents were crying. Neighbors swarmed our house in disbelief,” Cardel recalled.
Hungry and thirsty
He added that his son complained of being so thirsty and hungry after his life was restored.
Jun also told his father that “people in heaven do not go hungry” and that he woke up “because Jesus told him to.”
The Cardel family did not yet ask for a medical explanation of what happened. But they believe what happened to Jun was a “miracle.”
“I can see that my son is better now. He can walk, though not that straight, he can move his body with ease, and can play with other children,” Cardel said. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI South Luzon Bureau
19 July 2006
By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
LEGAZPI CITY—AS MORE LAVA continued to flow from Mt. Mayon—which volcanologists said could turn into an explosive eruption within weeks if the magma pool rapidly increases—35 evacuation centers in eight surrounding towns and cities were being readied by the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council.
Jukes Nuñez of the PDCC plans and operations division said the evacuation centers were inspected by engineers and health officers on Monday and their reports on the condition of the centers were expected to be submitted to the PDCC today.
Nuñez said the PDCC was seeking the help of nongovernment organizations to provide water containers, beddings and vehicles necessary for evacuation.
He added that the common need of the evacuation centers were sanitary toilets.
Since Sunday, PDCC head Cedric Daep had been going around the eight towns and cities to brief residents on evacuation procedures, which will be implemented as soon as the volcano’s alert level is raised to four by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).
In a meeting on July 15, the PDCC and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas agreed that the local radio stations would be the main medium for conveying evacuation instructions to the residents.
PDCC data showed there were 74,969 persons or 13,870 families to be evacuated from 34 threatened villages in the eight towns and cities.
Phivolcs, meanwhile, in its latest advisory issued at 8 a.m. yesterday said Mayon continued to expel rocks and lava during the last 24-hour observation period.
Seismic activity around the volcano was dominated by 100 short-duration harmonic tremors associated with the intrusion of magma and the detachment of lava fragments, it said.
The lava flow has extended to 1,000 meters downslope from Monday’s reported 800 meters.
Fragments of incandescent boulders were observed by Phivolcs at about 3,000 meters from the summit at an elevation of 700 meters above sea level in Bonga gully.
Alert level three remained hoisted while residents immediately beyond the 6-km permanent danger zone (PDZ) around the volcano’s peak were told to watch out for pyroclastic and lava flows, rockfalls and small avalanches and be ready to evacuate at first notice.
Mayor Noel Rosal of Legazpi City, which lies at the foot of the volcano, has invited tourists to enjoy the spectacle.
Lava and rocks have been flowing from Mayon’s near-perfect cone at 2,474 meters (8,118 feet) for five days now.
The authorities have extended the 6-km danger zone around the peak of the volcano to 7 kms on the southeastern slope, where most of the lava and debris have been rolling down, The Associated Press has reported.
“The number of earthquakes has decreased but the lava continues to advance,” said resident volcanologist Eduardo Laguerta. With an AP report.
LEGAZPI CITY—THE ALBAY provincial board yesterday afternoon declared areas within the seven-kilometer extended danger zone under a state of calamity as a preparation for Mt. Mayon’s major eruption, which the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said could be within two weeks or even earlier.
Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez said he requested the declaration and it was approved by the board to ensure that the funds will be ready and necessary preparations be put in place before the affected people are evacuated as Mt. Mayon’s rumbling intensifies.
Eduardo Laguerta, Phivolcs-Legazpi’s senior science research specialist and resident volcanologist, said there were no recorded major volcanic activities yesterday that could lead to the raising of alert level.
He said, though, that Phivolcs was closely monitoring the volcano’s magma density and lava extrusion rate as it had been observed to be increasing since Friday night when a glowing summit of the volcano was observed and the alert level was elevated to three.
Residents living immediately outside the six-kilometer-radius permanent danger zone have been advised by the Phivolcs to be vigilant of hazardous pyroclastic and lava flows, rockfalls, and small avalanches from the 2,474-meter volcano.
Based on reports from the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council here, there are six municipalities and 21 villages within the six-to-eight-kilometer distance from the crater with 6,724 families or 37,017 persons. Ephraim Aguilar, Southern Luzon Bureau
19 July 2006
By Ephraim Aguilar, PDI
Southern Luzon Bureau
LEGAZPI CITY—IT’S BEEN A month since a 10-year-old boy from this city miraculously came back to life, 10 hours after he was allegedly pronounced dead of a brain tumor in a hospital in Manila.
On June 21, the parents of Dante Cardel Jr. or “Jun” as he was called by his family, was brought to the Philippine General Hospital. The Child Sponsorship for Community Development Inc. paid for the trip and the treatment.
“At 10 a.m. that day, the doctors at PGH said my son had a slim chance of survival. That afternoon, he was already dependent on the machines attached to his body. At 4 p.m., he was pronounced dead,” Cardel, Jun’s father, told the Inquirer.
However, Dr. Michael Tee, assistant to the director for public affairs of the PGH, said the hospital did not pronounce the boy dead.
“We did not issue any certification that the child died. We recommended that [he] be subjected to an operation to decompress his tumor but the parents refused. What we did was let the parents sign an agreement that the hospital would not be accountable for anything that might happen to the child. We respected their decision,” Tee said.
Dr. Vicente Tanchuling, Jun’s doctor here, said Jun had been diagnosed with serious cerebellar tumor and typhoid fever.
A brain tumor is the abnormal growth of tissue within the skull that occurs most commonly in children.
“The doctors said my son’s tumor had burst in his skull. At that point, my wife and I accepted that he would be gone soon. When he was proclaimed dead, some of our relatives left [for Legazpi] to prepare the house for his wake,” Cardel said.
That same night, Cardel and his wife transported Jun back to Legazpi City in a van. They took turns holding his lifeless body in their arms.
After 10 hours, Cardel felt his son’s chest grow warm. They had reached Naga City, some two hours from their destination.
“His chest was warm, but the rest of his body was still cold. He was not breathing.” Cardel said.
When the family reached their house at Barangay Puro, the father lay his erstwhile dead son on the sofa. Suddenly, the boy moved.
“My son embraced me. In a weak voice, he called me ‘Papa.’ We were all surprised. We and his grandparents started crying. Although it was early morning, our neighbors came to the house,” Cardel said.
Jun was also very thirsty and very hungry.
Cardel said his son told him that “people in heaven do not go hungry” and that he woke up “because Jesus told him to.”
After almost a month, the Cardel family has not asked for a medical explanation of what happened.
Cardel, a poor fisherman, said he hoped his son would recover from his illness, even without treatment or medication.
“I can see that my son is better now. He can walk—although not that straight. He can move his body. He can play with other children,” he said.
Jun, who has difficulty hearing and speaking, said he wanted to become an engineer someday.
“My son was very smart in school. He was very good in Math; he loved to solve numerical problems. We’re just praying he would be completely healed from his sickness,” Cardel said.
LEGAZPI CITY—CABLE WIRES OF THE Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology here were again stolen by unidentified men, disrupting communications from and to the Phivolcs office just as it monitored lava flow from Mayon Volcano.
Alex Baloloy, Phivolcs science research analyst, said the wires were stolen between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., but no one saw the theft. The observatory is at a secluded area at the Ligñon Hill in Barangay Tagas in Daraga town.
The phone line was restored when Digitel Telephone Co. immediately replaced the stolen wires.
“This has happened thrice already since May. What these robbers don’t realize is that they are toying with public safety with what they are doing,” Baloloy said.
An angry Gov. Fernando Gonzales immediately ordered the provincial police to investigate and come out with positive results in 24 hours.
“Certainly, there was a lapse in law enforcement,” Gonzales said.
“Some unscrupulous people don’t realize that they are putting lives in danger, including theirs.”
Early this year, two seismometers of the Phivolcs were stolen.
One was returned after the robbers heard the Phivolcs’ appeal over radio for the return of the instrument because it was needed to monitor ground movements related to volcanic activities.
The Phivolcs has recorded 314 quakes generated by Mayon’s activity from a previous 111. This indicates magma rising and burning volcanic rocks coming out, Baloloy said.
Less emission of sulfur dioxide—a sign of clogging inside the volcano—was also noted.
“If the pressure continues to rise and there is clogging within the volcano, it might lead to an explosion,” Baloloy said.
The latest Phivolcs bulletin noted “heightened unrest in the volcano which could lead to an explosive eruption” based on an increase in seismic activity and lava flow.
People within the 6-km-radius permanent danger zone (PDZ) and even those beyond, especially in the southeast portion facing the Bonga Gully, should be on a high level of alert, the Phivolcs said.
Phivolcs maintained alert level 3 since Friday night in the 2,474-meter Mayon, which is known for its near-perfect cone and one of the country’s 22 active volcanos. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
18 July 2006
By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau
LEGAZPI CITY—THERE IS NOT A SIGN OF fear in their faces as they go about their simple ways of living. But the villagers of Bonga have known the terror of living in the shadow of one of the Philippines’ killer volcanoes.
Village secretary Carmen Azul still vividly remembers what happened to her neighbors when Mount Mayon erupted in 1993.
“I heard the people yelling, I thought there was a street fight, until I saw people covered with ash, their skins burned,” she told the Inquirer.
“They had come from the foot of the volcano to farm or tend to their livestock. Some were still alive when I saw them but they were crying in pain because of their burns.”
The others were beyond care.
“They were already stiff and dead,” Azul said. “I was just thankful my husband did not go out to farm that day and just stayed home.”
The ghastly memories came back to Azul yesterday as the 2,474-meter volcano continued to rumble and scientists warned of the danger of another possibly major blast.
Besides the increased seismic activity from Mayon, volcanologists also noted that the stream of lava from the summit had rolled 800 meters down from the summit.
One also could not see any trace of concern in the faces of Bonga’s children but they also knew of the danger of living close to Mayon, some 7 km away from their village.
Their parents had told them what it was like.
“It is dangerous … If it explodes, we will leave this place and go to Gogon (a designated evacuation center),” 7-year-old Jessa said as she played with other kids on a dusty road.
Me-Ann, another child, said she would run as fast and as far as her legs would carry her. She said her mother had told her of what happened in 1993.
Benjamin Esquivel, village chief of Bonga, recalled the eruption was so sudden that the villagers did not have time to prepare.
Many farmers, including Esquivel’s two brothers, were working on the fields when they were hit by a mass of fiery ash from the volcano’s summit.
They died because of serious burns, he said.
The eruption killed a total of 79 villagers, mostly farmers who were planting coconuts, vegetables and root crops at the foot of the volcano when it exploded.
“The main livelihood of the people here is farming. The farmers cultivate soil at the foot of the Mayon because the soil there is very fertile. It lessens their cost of production since they no longer need so much artificial fertilizer,” said Antonio Alcera, head of Barangay Mabinit, one of the danger areas at the foot of Mayon.
Based on Office of Civil Defense reports, as of March, there were 4,343 farmers living immediately outside the 6-km-radius permanent danger zone (PDZ) but continued to farm within the zone.
Said Alcera: “The farmers here are worried that because of the ongoing eruption, their crops will be destroyed. In 1993, the plantations were devastated by the series of ash falls, robbing the farmers of their source of living.”
Though women in the village are into weaving, farming remains the main source of income for the 400 households in Barangay Matanag.
In Bonga, Esquivel said the 1993 eruption taught villagers some important lessons which they have not forgotten.
“On their own initiative, the farmers are now careful not to enter the high-risk areas, planting in safer fields far from where the 1993 tragedy happened,” Esquivel said.
Villagers cling to their traditional beliefs about the signs of an imminent eruption.
“One of the common signs here is when the wells in the village dry up. It is also usually hot, even if it’s windy,” Azul said.
Old folks believe a change in the behavior of animals in the volcano’s forest also portends that an eruption is coming, according to Esquivel.
Birds, snakes and other wild animals have been observed to leave the volcano’s slopes when an eruption is near. They are believed to be able to feel the volcano’s restiveness, which makes them feel uneasy and prompts them to travel downslope.
The village chieftains of Bonga and Matanag said they were aware of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council’s evacuation scheme.
“I have advised the people to prepare the basic things they have to bring just in case the alert level is raised to four. We already know our designated evacuation center. We just have to be watchful all the time,” Alcera said.
Alcera said that if the situation worsened, nobody would want to be left in the village even if it meant giving up their livelihood.
“Who would want the 1993 tragedy to happen again?” Azul said.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) said it had recorded 314 tremors in the last 24 hours up to 6 a.m. yesterday, significantly higher than the 111 tremors monitored Sunday. (See related story in Across the Nation, Page A14.)
“Residents in areas facing the Bonga gully in the southeast portion of the volcano and within 7 kilometers of the crater are advised to be prepared for evacuation,” Phivolcs said in a bulletin issued yesterday.
It advised residents near the Bonga gully to be vigilant against hazardous explosions that could cause lava flows and small rock avalanches. With a report from Blanche S. Rivera