Taal’s eruption disrupts Sinulog Festival
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2020 - 12:00am

It is the new year 2020 and if there is any unexpected news we got last Sunday afternoon was the violent explosion of the Philippines’ second most active volcano, the Taal Volcano island, a view that you can see from Tagaytay City and Batangas. The volcanic explosion, which sent a plume of ash half a mile into the air, came months after the Taal volcano, which is around 40 miles south of Manila began exhibiting a state of unrest. Tremors were felt on the volcano’s island. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised its alert level for Taal Volcano to four of five, indicating that a hazardous eruption was imminent. However no one took these warnings seriously owing to the fact that it has been decades since the last eruption of Taal Volcano.

As of late Sunday afternoon, the ashfall from Taal had engulfed most of Metro Manila, all the way to Pampanga. This apparently reached the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) where flights to and from the airport were suspended because of the eruption. This has caused travellers having a weekend vacation in Boracay to be stranded. Also DZMM, which has been monitoring this volcanic disaster have urged people living within Metro Manila to wear face masks… and I would like to believe that this announcement would mean that there would be a severe shortage of face masks from the medical stores in NCR.

Apparently we learned that the volcano island has been showing signs of activity since last March, but despite the warnings by Phivolcs, the people living around the volcano did not expect a huge volcanic eruption. Last Sunday Phivolcs ordered the evacuation of hundreds of villagers and it warned that the eruption could cause a “volcanic tsunami” and advised nearby communities to take precautions against possible surges from the lake that surrounds the volcano. Around 6,000 people live on the island, and a lot of boats evacuated the residents to safety in Batangas early Sunday afternoon.

In a separate advisory, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said arriving flights are suspended from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. last Sunday, while departing flights are suspended from 6:22 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday.

“The closure of the airport came after volcanic ash clouds have been reported to reach 50,000 feet from surface level, directly affecting air traffic.

I called my friends, fellow columnist Sara Soliven de Guzman who was vacationing with her mom Preciosa Soliven in Bohol, fortunately they arrived in Manila just in time as the airport was closed. My other friend, Mr. Tourism Bobby Joseph was stuck in Boracay and could not return home. I’m sure that many others could not go back to Manila unless they take a Cebu to Manila Ferryboat.

Twenty-nine years ago, exactly on June 12,1991, I flew to Manila with my mentor Max Soliven when Mt. Pinatubo exploded. I then drove with my friends to Dagupan and realized that the explosion was really imminent, the following day, we returned to Manila and the volcano erupted and 3 p.m. seemed like 7 p.m. in the evening. I proceeded to NAIA and apparently took the last flight back to Cebu and NAIA was then closed because of the ashfall. Upon reaching my house, I saw that my car was covered with ashes from Mt. Pinatubo.

Meanwhile here in Cebu City we have no national newspapers. My Philippine STAR is our Sunday STAR owing to the fact that there are no flights from NAIA to Cebu. We also learned that Phivolcs further raised the alert level of Taal Volcano to 4 as the eruptive activity at the main crater continues to intensify, spewing massive plumes 10 to 15 kilometers high that contain rock fragments and raining wet ashfall to as far as Quezon City. This means that hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.

At this point, allow me to say that Tagaytay City partly fills a caldera formed thousands of years ago and has since become a popular attraction for tourists viewing it from a ridge in Cavite province to the north. The only positive thing is that Taal Volcano is in an island within the old caldera of the original volcano. It is much like the famous Santorini in Greece where its caldera was formed thousands of years ago… thus it has become one of Greece’s most visited tourist destinations.

At this point we don’t know how long will the NAIA be closed for operations. Few people understand that we are now entering the Sinulog Week, which means that Cebu expects thousands upon thousands of tourists to come for the Sinulog Festival. Meanwhile Sec. Salvador Panelo, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said the government was “closely monitoring the situation of Taal Volcano.” We can only hope and pray that the Taal volcanic eruption won’t be as huge as the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. When NAIA resumes its operations, Cebu would greatly benefit from the thousands of tourists who are already booked in hotels for the Sinulog Festival.

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Email: vsbobita@gmail.com

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