By Joseph Almer Pedrajas
TALISAY, Batangas — Some of the residents living near Taal Volcano had to wait overnight before they could evacuate on Monday morning to avoid being hit by falling trees and muddy rains caused by a mix of volcanic ash and rainfall.
Gina de Ramos, 53, rushed to the peak of Sitio Latag, a mountain-village in Tumaway only after the tremors stopped because she thought it was where they would be safe.
“Umakyat na kami sa pinakataas na parte ng bundok kung saan kami nakatira. Grabe, nasa bundok na nga, nililindol pa (We ran to the highest part of the mountain. The tremors were shaking the mountain),” she told Manila Bulletin while waiting in Poblacion for a service vehicle, which would transport them to an evacuation area in Tanauan.
“Kapit kapit na nga lang kami [noong lumilindol]. Nananalangin (We held on to each other while the ground was shaking, praying),” de Ramos shared, adding that it happened at midnight.
They were only able to leave home around 6 a.m.
Aside from her husband and three children, de Ramos also brought along their dog, Frodol, a dachsund which had been vomiting since Sunday after “inhaling ashes spewed by the volcano.”
“May isa pa kaming asong naiwan sa bahay. Pinipilit nya ngang sumama kaso hindi pwede kasi masyado syang malaki,” she said in between sobs.
Like the De Ramos family, John Rey Fuente, 15, also evacuated their home in Banga only at daybreak because they “could not see the roads which were covered by mud.”
“Ngayon lang kami nakaalis dahil di namin kayang lumusong. Bundok pa po kasi. Tapos maputik pa at saka madilim (We were only able to evacuate now because it was dark and the road was covered with mud),” he said.
“May napuputol na mga puno sa tabi ng bahay. Ngayon lang naghintuan ang mga ulan na putik (there were fallen trees near our house. The rain of mud just stopped),” he added.
Fuente was carrying several clothes and a flat screen television, which he would bring to the evacuation area.
“Pinadala na lang po ng tatay ko [yung TV] para di masira sa bahay kapag lumindol,” he added.
Most of the trees here were already felled following the tremors caused by the eruption. Their leaves were coated with grey ash.
People were already walking barefoot to avoid slipping on inches-thick of mud while motorists drove at slow speed. Some vehicles were wiggling.
There were reports that in the town of Balete in Batangas, all livestock were discovered dead by residents who came back to secure them.
Residents were using shovels to remove the mud on the road for the safety of motorists.
By 5:40 a.m., 90 percent of the residents here were already evacuated, Vice Governor Mark Leviste said.
Authorities are prioritizing to evacuate residents of Talisay and Agoncillo towns which is about 30 minutes away by boat from Taal Volcano.
Meanwhile, the stretch of General Malvar Avenue from Santo Tomas town to Talisay looked deserted during the wee hours of Monday as residents were advised to remain indoors. Only few cars, mostly emergency vehicles transporting evacuees were visible in the area.
Ash filled the air of Diversion Road from Taal to Agoncillo and covered almost everything – houses, cars, trees, road signs and stoplights.
There were areas where residents offered free car wash. Some used shovels to remove slippery mud on the road.
“Kawang-gawa lang. Sino ba magtutulungan kundi tayo rin?” a resident offering free car wash on Gen. Malvar Ave. told Manila Bulletin.
Emily Marqueses, 38 of Talisay said they decided to leave as it was no longer safe to stay at home.
“Tuwing 5 minutes, nalindol po eh. Doon po ako natakot nang husto. Kasi walang choice. Kapag nalabas ka para safe, naulan naman ng putik at bato. Tapos mananatili ka naman sa loob, nalindol naman (The earth shakes every five minutes and I am afraid. We don’t have a choice. If we stay outside, there is ashfall. If we stay inside, the ground shakes),” she added.
Marqueses is among the hundreds of evacuees staying at the city evacuation center of Santo Tomas.
“Isa sa mga kailangan namin dito ay matutulugan (One of the things we need are beddings),” said Elmer Centeno, head of Santo Tomas Disaster Risk Reduction Management office, “Kasi sa karton lang natutulog mga tao (the evacuees only sleep with hard cardboard on their backs)”
Prayer for safety
In the midst of the crisis, Church leaders prayed for Divine intercession to calm down the volcano and protect the people from harm.
“Naniniwala kaming mapapahupa ng Iyong kamay ang bangis nito. Iligtas mo po kami sa kapahamakan, lalo na ang mga mahihirap, may karamdaman, mga bata at nakatatanda at nag-iisa (We believe that your hands will be able to calm it. Protect us from danger especially the poor, sick, children, old and those are alone),” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle prayed.
“Paigtingin Mo rin sa amin ang pagdadamayan, pagmamalasakit at pangangalaga sa kapwa at kalikasan (Strengthen our desire to help and care for one another and the environment),” he added.
“We ask that you restore the calmness of Taal Volcano. We know nothing is impossible to You and You are always in control. May the boiling lava subside and molten rocks cool down,” Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos prayed.
“Instill Your compassionate presence in us so we may calm our fears. Continue to keep us all safe under Your divine protection,” he implored.
Bishop Santos said they also sent the prayer to the Filipino chaplaincies in Bergamo, Milan, Padova, Rome and Venice in Italy since most OFWs in Italy come from Batangas province.
He said this is to show their solidarity with the Archdiocese of Lipa and support to OFWs from Batangas.
“We asked our Filipino chaplains to assure of OFWs that here the archdiocesan/diocesan migrant ministries are assisting and helping those whom they have left behind,” said Santos.
3 national roads closed
Meanwhile, three national roads in Calabarzon region were closed to traffic due to ashfall, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said.
All types of vehicles were barred from passing the Talisay-Tagaytay section of Tanauan-Talisay-Tagaytay Road in Talisay, Batangas starting Monday afternoon due to ashfall. Maintenance crew and equipment operators have been deployed on the site, the agency said.
Two sections of national roads in Tagaytay, Cavite-Tagaytay-Taal Lake Road and Tagaytay-Talisay Road- were also closed due to ashfall.
The agency said shuttle buses were also deployed by its central offices to Laurel and Talisay in Batangas to assist in transporting evacuees to the evacuation centers. This was assured by DPWH Undersecretary Rafael “Pie” Yabut in a report to Senator Francis Tolentino who had called for an Inter-Agency Meeting on Taal Volcano Eruption in Tagaytay City Monday morning. (With reports from Betheena Kae Unite and Leslie Ann G. Aquino)