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Taal and PH’s many other natural disasters



THE Philippines was in the news around the world when typhoon Phanfone – which carried the local name Ursula – struck the Visayas on Christmas Day. It was a terrible time to lose homes and family members. At least 50 were killed in the typhoon and 2.1 million people were forced to seek refuge in evacuation centers; some 85,000 were still in the evacuation centers on New Year’s Eve.

The country was again in the news around the world last Monday, this time because of the eruption of Taal Volcano, well known to tourists looking down from the surrounding ridge of Tagaytay City. Where else can people normally look down into a volcano’s crater?

The crater has its own lake, so it has become known as a lake within an island within a lake. After being quiet in the last 43 years, Taal erupted Sunday afternoon, spewing ashes that fell on surrounding seas in Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna.

Taal is the country’s second most active volcano, next to Mayon in Albay. There are 100 Philippine volcanos listed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program in the United States, but only 23 are listed as active by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. These include the Banahaw in Laguna and Quezon, Biliran in Biliran near Leyte, Bulusan in Sorsogon, Camiguin and Didicas in Cagayan, Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin, and Kanlaon in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, which have intermittently come to life over the centuries.

The most destructive in recent times was the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales in 1991 that killed around 350 people, covered many areas of land with lahar, and affected weather around the world for months. It led to the evacuation by the Americans of Clark Air Base in Pampanga and of Subic Naval Base in Zambales.

Philippine volcanoes are part of the “Ring of Fire” surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Also in this same “Ring of Fire” are constantly shifting masses of earth that cause earthquakes in the land above them. Our islands also lie along the favorite paths of typhoons that form in the Pacific, then move west toward the Asian mainland or swerve north into Japan.

We have learned to live with all these natural events that have caused so much destruction and death. They have made us what we are as a people, used to difficulties and suffering, but ready to continue forward.

The national economy may not have progressed sufficiently for everyone to have decent work locally, but Filipinos have responded by spreading around the world to work as doctors and nurses, engineers and construction workers, office managers and information technology experts, and as housekeepers and caregivers despite their college training as teachers and other professionals.

So today, we have Taal Volcano erupting. It may cause great destruction and take many lives. We can expect many by other problems and difficulties to come our way – earthquakes, typhoons, floods and droughts. But we are used to them and we will not just survive them. We will draw strength from them.