By Aaron Recuenco
BATANGAS CITY – The images of death in the aftermath of the 1965 eruption of Taal Volcano still give 73-year-old Vicente Pablo Jr. chills and nightmares.
He may have already seen enough as a teen helper for a funeral parlor in Taal then, but the deformities and the extent of damage inflicted by the pyroclastic materials on the cadavers he was asked to retrieve are the ones that continue to give him shivers.
He said he doesn’t want to die that way. Nobody deserves that kind of ending, he added.
So when he felt the same tremor, heard the same rumblings and saw the same ash plumes on Sunday afternoon, he immediately responded to the first thing that comes out of his mind – flee.
“Bumalik bigla yung takot, yung mga nakita kong bangkay. Sabi ko ayaw kong mangyari yun sa akin, sa pamilya ko (The scary memory suddenly came back – the cadavers I saw. I told myself, I don’t want such thing to happen to me, to my family),” King, Pablo’s nickname, told the Manila Bulletin in an interview inside an evacuation center here.
He then started telling a story about an old but wealthy woman in their town who was among those hit by the first volley of pyroclastic materials from Taal Volcano in September, 1965.
“We were asked to retrieve the body near the rice field. It took us a few hours of digging using bare hands and sticks before we found the body. How she died was horrifying,” said Lolo King.
Amid the ashfall and Taal volcano rumblings that time, he stumbled on a few more bodies – which he said may have died probably due to intense heat – while on their way to the funeral parlor.
“I thought my memory of that woman ended with the recovery of her body. I was wrong. While I was washing the cadaver, that was the first time I saw how parts of her skin flowed with water and ashes,” said Lolo King.
The cadaver of the old woman that King described was among the more than 50 bodies recovered during the 1965 Taal Volcano eruption. More than 130 others were reported missing.
That is the reason, according to King, that at the first signs that Taal Volcano was rumbling, he and his family immediately fled their home and sought refuge at the compound of the Batangas Provincial Capitol here.
On their way, using the passenger jeepney owned by his relative, he explained to his family why evacuating early is really important.
Aside from the horrible deaths he saw, King also narrated stories of how the bad side of some people naturally comes out in times of disaster.
“After the eruption, we heard a lot of stories that more people would have been saved if only some of those who fled from the island were not too selfish. We were told that some of the banca owners only saved themselves and prevented others from boarding,” Lolo King told the Manila Bulletin.
These tales, which happened a very long time ago, were sad stories he wanted to forget. All he wanted to remember and impart to his family was the lesson he learned from it – early evacuation as a virtue.
And with his family safe for now at the evacuation center, Lolo King said he could now sleep well.