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Ruminations about the Taal eruption

When faced with an emergency, and I certainly put this Taal episode in that category, immediately my instinct is to work on matters that are within my control. Being thousands of miles away, there was however very little I could do except of course to pray.

Bing Matoto




That’s now top of mind on everyone’s worry list as we start 2020 literally with a bang, while awaiting the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Metallic Rat, a zodiac sign associated with, among other attributes, an aggressive attitude.

The explosion of the main crater of Taal Volcano last 12 January was most certainly aggressive and, as we subsequently found out, was phreatic in nature. This means an eruption caused by the buildup of steam underneath, pushing upwards molten lava, which is super-hot rocks or magma that have come in contact with underground water in the lake causing this combustible mix to aggressively seek an outlet for its unleashed power, quite apropos for the start of 2020.

Taal is the second most active volcano in our country next only to the majestic Mt. Mayon in Albay. It has had 34 recorded eruptions and has claimed over 6,000 lives in the past because of its proximity to populated areas.

Taal Volcano is considered a caldera, a Spanish word for cooking pot, because of its shape caused by the collapse of the ground surface due to previous eruptions. The lake and the caldera shape of the volcano as we know it now came about because of an eruption in 1911, which obliterated the crater floor.

The last eruption of Taal prior to 2020 was way back in 1977. But since then, there have been significant seismic activity coupled with earth fractures and mud flows all pointing to a possible volcanic eruption. The highest alert level however had never been higher than 2, in a scale of 1 to 5.

Each of us undoubtedly can recall where and when we found out about Taal’s latest temperamental outburst. In my case, I was in Taipei on a business trip that weekend when social media started buzzing with messages about an eruption of Taal early in the evening as I was attending Sunday Mass.

At first, I took it rather quite lightly but almost all too suddenly, Alert Level 4 was raised, which suggested that an even more hazardous eruption could be imminent and could happen in a matter of hours or days!

As I started seeing Viber images of the ash plumes rising up in the clouds, estimated to be as high as 14 kilometers, which is almost the distance between Alabang and Makati, I started to fret anxiously about my wife, Liza, who was nursing a bad cough when I left.

With a kidney transplant, her immune system is also dangerously low and thus very much vulnerable in situations that could lead to infections such as ashfall.

Instinctively, memories of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption started flashing in my mind. I started recalling the thick, blackish ashfall that enveloped our house, our cars, our garden, our pool — everything! If it was that bad when Mt. Pinatubo erupted, which is a good 109 kilometers away from Alabang, how much worse would the impact of a Taal eruption be, just a mere 77 kilometers separating us from a tempestuous eruption?

Then, it started dawning on me that my return flight to Manila the next day would probably be canceled for God knows how long! Who was going to supervise the situation at home without me around? My mind anxiously swirled with disturbing thoughts throughout the night as I sleeplessly monitored the different Viber messages I was receiving, all dire and foreboding, and some painfully conflicting. Close and seal all windows tightly to prevent microscopic ash containing particles of glass-like materials, but do you turn off the air-conditioners or not? How can Liza with her asthmatic cough make do only with electric fans? On the other hand, if you use the air-con, won’t the circulated air in the room inevitably result in sucking in as well the dangerous sulfuric air from the ashfall?

How do you handle the ashfall blanketed cars? Do you wash them down with high pressured water? Won’t that result in the car paint peeling off? How about the accumulated ashfall on the roof? The weight could cause it to collapse unless scraped off right away. Oh my!

How about the supply of distilled water, the only kind that Liza is allowed to take — and face masks. Only the N95 can cope against the insidious microscopic particles of ashfall… but stores are running out of supply!

When faced with an emergency, and I certainly put this Taal episode in that category, immediately my instinct is put to work on matters that are within my control. Being thousands of miles away, there was however very little I could do except of course to pray. First, before taking in a few hours of sleep, I said a prayer for a lull and a small window that would allow Manila-bound flights to resume.

As I woke up the next morning, some good news, although Philippine Airlines had canceled some flights, my flight which was scheduled to leave late that night, was still on. Buoyed somewhat by this, together with some colleagues from Yuanta Bank where I am an independent director, after a brief visit to the bank’s head office, we were treated to a sumptuous traditional Taiwanese lunch allowing us to temporarily forget what was happening back home. We then spent the rest of the day doing some last-minute sightseeing and shopping, the latter primarily for face masks to bring home.

As we arrived at the PAL counter, long lines of stranded passengers from previous canceled flights greeted us and the PAL representative was taking ages to find our names on the list. Another prayer was in order: Please God, don’t let us be bumped off.

After an interminable wait, the representative finally found our names and promptly issued the boarding passes. The next hitch, the plane we were supposed to use had not yet arrived… flight delayed for an hour. Oh my gosh, another prayer. Please don’t let the flight be canceled.

Finally, after another hour’s wait, the PAL plane surfaced on the tarmac and we were called for boarding. Hooray!

When the plane finally landed at NAIA, it was my happiest arrival ever. And as I finally reached home, my wife had the biggest smile on her face that more than made up for all the ashfall I saw on the streets. Thank you, Lord!

Until next week… One big fight!

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