Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Sunday Update 3 : Taal

The past week has been nothing short of eventful. As most of the world knows, Taal Volcano spewed out ash last Sunday afternoon, blanketing towns as far as Metro Manila with the grey powder. By the end of the day, Alert Level 4 was raised, warning the public that a major eruption was imminent in what can only be predicted as being as close as hours or days.  Several towns in nearby Batangas Province, which is practically next door to the town where I work, have been evacuated as they are in the 14km danger zone in the event of the eruption.  Since then there have been constant earthquakes, fissures have been reported in various places in Batangas and a lava fountain has been spotted in Taal. A deadly eruption, according to experts, is expected. 

Our view from home last weekend.

Being a nearby province, I have been to several towns in Batangas several times. Seeing the ashfall covered towns in the news has been shocking – it's like the towns have been edited to grayscale. There was no color at all. Some homes had collapsed roofs from the weight of the ashfall. Some were damaged from the fissures that raised the ground so high there seemed to be two levels of road. People had to be forcibly evacuated to centers across the provinces of Batangas and Cavite, many refusing to leave their homes behind. As the week went on many had gone back to get some of their personal belongings and pets even when the government has emphasized the danger of an imminent eruption. 

One thing that annoyed me so much about what happened was the negativity from some people who were reacting to how evacuees were handling the natural disaster. Some had called out residents who left their pets behind, which I think was not fair. So many of them did not want to do that. But when your life is on the line and the only thing you can bring is the clothes you are wearing; I cannot fault them for not being able to bring their pets. We cannot judge them for that unless we ourselves were in that same situation.  

Some people were placing blame on the government agency PhilVolcs for not warning people properly. That is also not fair. There have been warnings as early as last year, I remember because I made note of that when we booked a stay in a hotel in Tagaytay City at the time. The supposed government inquiry on who is to blame for lack of preparation and warning is also in bad taste. I don’t think that this is the time to be finger-pointing and playing the blame game. That can be done later. What’s important now is that the people who need the help can get it -- not just now but all the way until after this is all over. It should not be about whose fault it is but about how we can help.  

With the sad turn of events, there has been a glimmer of hope. Throughout the week I have seen so many private vehicles pass me on my way to work, all filled with food, clothing, and water to bring to the people who have been displaced to evacuation centers. All over the news, so many people have been making efforts to help by volunteering and donating. I hope that people will continue to do so for a long time. I know that these people will continue to need help long after the danger has passed. People need to rebuild and start over. So many of them have lost everything, they will need all of us to help them get back on their feet. 

Another light-hearted turn of events has been the news of evacuees having fun trying on the clothes that have been donated to them. So many of them left with the clothes on their backs and have not had a change of clothes since they moved. Unfortunately, some donations included work uniforms and items that were not suitable for living in evacuation centers. Nevertheless, the evacuees tried them on and had a good time laughing at how ridiculous some of the items have been. It warms my heart to see how they can all still have a good laugh given their current living situation.  

Several friends and family have reached out to check if my family and I are OK. Apart from light ashfall and the dizzy spells we get from the earthquakes, we are fine and we are grateful to be fine given that Tagaytay, which is the closest place in the province to Taal, is only around 30 minutes away. Right now, we don’t know what will happen, but we are all hoping that it can all be over soon. Whether that means that the eruption will finally happen, or that the danger will pass and the magma will subside, we just hope that this can end.  

There are so many people are living in evacuation centers, in one town alone I was surprised by how many people there are. All the women (several of whom are pregnant), children (and babies), senior citizens, and people with disabilities...they all deserve to be home. To rebuild, to start over, and to thrive again. While volunteers and local governments can assist them in these evacuation centers, I’m sure there is nothing better for them than being back home. I hope one day soon they can go back to that.

With some centers getting more donations than others, the provincial government of Batangas has established a donation hub to better distribute the goods being given by volunteers. A list of contact details, as well as items that are needed, can be found here. Donations via other government agencies or private groups are also possible, contact details were recently posted on CNN Philippines


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