Eruptions, past and present


Taal Volcano decided to start the new year with a bang. Well, not really a loud bang but a “steam-driven” eruption followed by a “magmatic” eruption. But it has disrupted the lives of our kababayans, especially those living near the picturesque volcano.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has raised alert Level 4 which means that a hazardous eruption may occur "within hours to days.” Government has promptly responded to the dangers of an imminent eruption by evacuating the areas near the volcano and sending assistance to those who were forced to flee their homes.

The Department of Public Works and Highways have deployed manpower and equipment to support rescue and evacuation procedures in several Batangas towns. Many private companies including PrimeWater and Crystal Clear have contributed to the relief efforts. This requires a united front so I am glad to see everyone pitching in to help our kababayans.

More importantly, I urge everyone to stay safe. Stay at home and make sure you are always informed of what is happening. Be vigilant. Follow the advice from government agencies to make sure that we avoid unnecessary loss of life and property.

Our response to any potential disasters must be swift and focused on protecting the welfare of our people. I remember very well the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June, 1991. After days of spewing volcanic ash and gas, Pinatubo orchestrated a spectacular and devastating eruption which has been called the second-largest volcanic eruption on Earth in this century.

The cataclysmic eruption ejected more than 5 cubic kilometers of material. A blanket of volcanic ash blanketed the province of Pampanga. A typhoon made matters worse, causing devastating lahar flows. The water also mixed with falling ash, creating a cement-like substance, and many houses and buildings caved in from the weight. It was saddening to see houses, churches, and building collapsed or buried by lahar.

But it is not only the devastation that we remember from Pinatubo. Phivolcs officials and other foreign experts were able to convince officials to evacuate more than 65,000 people. Today, that heroic effort is considered as one of the most successful hazard mitigation efforts of a large volcanic eruption.

Officials had a difficult time evacuating people. I remember reading in the news that teams sent to advise people to leave their homes reported that they had difficulty making people believe that Pinatubo—which had been dormant for almost 500 years — was in fact a volcano!

But the officials persevered and conducted educational sessions with local leaders to explain the dangers and answer questions. They even showed videos of the devastation caused by other volcanic eruptions. Remember that social media was not yet used during this time. It was the timely forecasts by scientists from Phivolcs and the US Geological Survey that enabled people living near the volcano to evacuate to safer distances, saving 5,000 to 20,000 lives.

I hope that the experiences of the Mt. Pinatubo eruptions allowed us to learn a lot in terms of preemptive evacuations and how to manage mitigation measures. I hope our people would heed the advice from authorities as we face another threat of violent eruptions from Taal volcano. Please remember that while the material properties you are trying to watch over are important, your lives are more valuable. You can always recover the things you lost. You only have one life.

Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine that a beautiful work of nature can cause so much devastation . Even the photos of Taal volcano erupting were magnificent and beautiful. But behind the beauty is the violence of an eruption. Let us respect the power of nature and stay away from its wrath. Be safe.