Nobody knows the feeling of being mired in the recent Mount Mayon situation in Albay, Bicol better than the people actually living around it.
On Monday, January 22, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised the alert level to four (hazardous eruption imminent) due to the "increased seismic unrest, lava fountaining, and summit explosions." According to an ABS-CBN News report, Mayon spewed lava and ash three times just the next day, prompting Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum to warn about the situation escalating to a massive eruption.
More than 40,000 residents have been evacuated from the eight-kilometer danger zone as of writing. The provincial government, including Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara, are regularly disseminating updates and information on the developing situation, from class and work suspensions to airport closures.
For someone who has spent all of his 36 years in the province, Ligao National High School History Teacher Kristian Imperial has been faced with his fair share of Mayon-related circumstances. And so far, it's not like he hasn't seen anything like this latest one before. We had the chance to ask if they're okay and talk to him about how the current volcanic predicament is affecting the lives of Albayanos.
At the moment
It didn't help that the monitoring apparatus that was supposed to alert the Phivolcs observatory station were reportedly stolen earlier this month.
"Sabi nga namin nakakalungkot; nabigla din yung mga tao dito na bigla na lang may lumabas na lava. Nagtaka lahat na bakit parang walang balita na magkakaroon ng activity yung Mayon," Imperial shares. Locals only noticed the development after seeing molten rock drip from the perfect cone since activity was last detected in 2014.
The lava flow resulted in tremors, then the volcano also started spewing ash as high as a few kilometers. His town is a good 16 miles off Mayon, but is still hampered by the ash fall; such is the case in the towns of Camalig and Guinobatan, among others, from the second and third districts of Albay, and in as far as Naga, Camarines Sur.
The cloud of residue has caused zero visibility in the said areas, not to mention the painful respiration. "Masakit siya sa dibdib when it gets to your lungs, o kahit sa lalamunan mo lang, para kang nauubo. Tsaka yung amoy, amoy asupre (sulfur) talaga."
The most critical area, though, is by base of the volcano and surrounding barangays, which can easily be reached by the increasing lava flow. Imperial once taught there (Amtic National High School, located right smack in the danger zone) so he is aware of the eruption-related fallout.
Ready, set, go
Despite the imminent danger, residents are far from a state of panic. He says it's still possible to go around the affected towns wearing mask and hat, but the governor advises them to stay indoors. They know the importance of staying calm in these situations; some has even taken light of the matter on Facebook.
Imperial explains, "Unang-una, sanay kami sa ganito. Kaya yung mga kamag-anak namin sa Manila, pag nagtanong sila akala mo nagtatakbuhan kami. Hindi ganun. Akala mo umaambon, pero ash fall yun. Tsaka ramdam sa balat, parang dusty siya."
With Mayon being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, as well as the close proximity and recurring scenarios, the province has put up enough facilities to accomodate evacuees. The number of barangays whose inhabitants are required to move out depends on the alert level. So far, the residents of Amtic and Baligang—within the danger zone—have evacuated to an elementary school in downtown Ligao.
The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council has been prepared and effective in the relief efforts, Imperial adds. Aside from the safety of the residents, the agency is also monitoring the livestock left in the wake of the exodus. "Kanina lang may dumating na truck from Naga, nagpadala sila ng tulong. Nakita ko din sa post ng city government, may mga dala silang mask, tubig, pagkain para sa mga evacuees."
That doesn't mean Imperial and his fellow Albayanos do not need assistance right now. When asked what they sorely need at the moment, he points to face masks as their top necessity. "As in wala ka nang mabibili sa mga tindahan."
The protective covering is essential to surrounding municipalities more than the locations near the volcano, because that is where the wind carries the cinders and envelopes the cities. But outside of supplies and material aid, he is asking for everyone's prayers, particularly to shield them from heavy rain that could become flash floods.
Imperial says, "Magbe-benefit yung mga nandito sa malalayong lugar kasi mawa-wash out yung ash dun sa mga halaman, lalo na sa mga taniman ng palay ngayon. Pero ibabagsak din niya yung patuloy na pagbuhos ng lava sa base katulad ng nangyari sa Typhoon Reming," whose ensuing lahar claimed several lives.
Going through the side effects a restless Mt. Mayon isn't new to the people who grew up in the locale. The most active volcano in the country has had 50 eruptions over the past 500 years, which means drills for disaster preparedness are basically like assembling for the national anthem. But it also doesn't make them vulnerable to anything else that nature brings about.
"Panalangin lang talaga yung kasangga namin ngayon."
Those who are interested to donate can get in touch with the Team Albay Youth Organization (TAYO) Inc., at Door 2, Citispire Bldg., Imelda Roces Avenue, Gogon, Legazpi City, or call 09276654715.
Cash assistance may be deposited to the TAYO Inc. Metrobank account (account number 595-7-59500460-4). For Daraga, donors can reach the authorities through these numbers: 09189637372 (Vice Mayor Carlwyn Baldo) and 09392041088 (Teresa Bausa). Mayor Ding Baldo (09178500235) handles Camalig donations.