This scribe has known JR Andrade since his grade school days in Ateneo as that straight-A student, ever diligent and responsible. He continued with his strong work ethics and doggedness in high school and college, becoming class president and head of clubs, among many others. After school, he pursued a career in media and broadcasting as news desk editor of local giant television network, GMA, even chasing typhoons in the country’s various outskirts in the extreme documentary show: “Storm Chasers” before eventually migrating with his family in Qatar to continue his passion as a journalist for another television station in the Middle East.
“I’ve been to various wild assignments before. But it was nothing compared to what I experienced in Tagaytay recently,” he recalled during one of our conversations after the aftermath of the recent Taal Volcano phreatic eruption.
JR together with his family of four was one of the thousands who were just supposed to enjoy one weekend of fun and relaxation in the cool highland haven — until Mother Nature had other plans.
“We just checked in at 8 Suites in Tagaytay at 2 p.m. for glamping until Monday the next day after a whole morning of fun Sunday activities,” he shared. “It was supposed to be a relaxing bonding activity for us family after a recent tragedy wherein we just lost our daughter in childbirth.”
What was supposed to be a calm and rejuvenating getaway for his family after a loss eventually turned to chaos as various rumblings were heard and felt from the nearby volcano, which saw them hurriedly packing their things.
“We were assured by the staff at first that everything was okay. And so, we just relaxed and enjoyed. But then, we heard thunderous sounds, followed by loss of electricity and the putrid smell of sulfur, that’s when we decided to leave immediately,” he said.
By 4:30 p.m., as soon as Alert Level 3 was announced, they embarked on their exodus to their home BF Parañaque, but not without heading out to a sea of bumper-to-bumper traffic along Sta. Rosa-Silang Road. The then bright sunny day turned into a blanket of darkness all over as ash fall covered the whole area.
“As a father, I struggled to remain calm. But I had to for my two kids, Lauren and Enzo. Good thing, my wife, Issa was there,” he recounted.
“It got to a point of zero visibility.”
He even recalled their windshield water drying up to the point that they had to use their own bottled water just to wash and clear their view in front.
“Buti na lang, there were good Samaritans along the way.”
They spent hours stuck in traffic without electricity around. Since day eventually creeped into night, driving in the dark became tough and tiring.
“It was the craziest and most challenging drive of my life,” exclaimed Andrade, who was no stranger to sandstorms in the Middle East.
At one point, he even said that the best way to navigate was to follow another car’s tail light.
“I never attempted to move without a car in front of me. That was the safest way since, at least, you know there’s another vehicle in front of you.”
After endless hours of driving, even “blindly,” his way out of all the pandemonium, he eventually found their way out to CALAX (Cavite-Laguna Expressway) and into SLEX (South Luzon Expressway).
By around midnight they finally reached their home in Parañaque.
“Grabe, it was like exactly from Dante’s Peak,” he divulged.
The 1997 epic disaster movie starred Pierce Brosnan, who portrayed as Harry Dalton, a volcanologist who was able to lead and save a family from the eruption of fictional volcano, Dante’s Peak.
And like portraying a leading role as head of his family in real life, JR, a perpetual model student, is now perhaps an exemplar for all fathers in having that kind of resolve and focus come hell or high water — or in this case, hell, ash and zero water.