A Mount Pinatubo Story: ‘My Uncle and his essential flashlight’

Ancestral house in Bacolor, Pampanga [photo credit: Alexander N. Yalung]
Ancestral house in Bacolor, Pampanga [photo credit: Alexander N. Yalung]
by Bernadette Y. Almodiel

“Like the loud sound of several horse hooves running…That’s when I was sure it will be fast approaching, so fast that if it flows on the lowlands it will bury all along its way.”

Teodulo Angeles Yalung [photo credits: Alexander N. Yalung]
Teodulo Angeles Yalung [photo credits: Alexander N. Yalung]
The “it” here is lahar – a flow of ash, water, and rocky debris. In the small town of Bacolor, Pampanga in the Philippines, where my uncle (Teodulo Angeles Yalung) lives to this day. He recalled how he would always wake up at dawn to check the level of the lahar using only his flashlight (an essential tool).

He would walk around and find some of the folks just standing still in shock and fear. The lahar was hot so it would kill anything (i.e. animals, plants, humans) when it flows. It flowed like a river of cement.

“Hey! get moving, people or else the lahar will surely catch up on you,” my uncle yelled. The folks did not heed his warning. Most even branded him as a madman.

My uncle said it was a sad and frightening experience because these people, later on, got buried in the lahar and died.

On June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo finally blew at around 1:42 pm. Ash reached as far as Singapore with John Ewert, a USGS scientist, monitoring the volcano from Clark airbase.

The sound of the volcano was drowned by a terrible clatter. It’s a lahar, making its way down a riverbed. The sound was coming from boulders banging together, tossed around like pebbles in the incredible force of the mudflow.

“It was raining mud, move as far away as you can with cars, pick-up trucks, water buffalos while looking over our shoulder for a surging cloud to come over us.” At that time, there was a designated shelter, the Pampanga Agricultural College which was 24 miles away.

“I thank my uncle who shared the story of how his family survived. Now I share it as well. Mr. Ewert survived it, and now he shares it through retelling the story on how they got out of Clark Airbase and reached the shelter at Pampanga Agricultural College.

Ancestral house in Bacolor, Pampanga [photo credit: Alexander N. Yalung]
Ancestral house in Bacolor, Pampanga [photo credit: Alexander N. Yalung]

How to Survive: Evacuate. (10-10-80)

  1. Knowledge of where you are: you have a map, flashlight (with extra batteries), pick-up truck, water. (10 percent)
  2. Do your homework. Research about the place you want to stay.
  3. Emergency Volcano Kit: goggles, mini radio, flashlight, food, and water. (10 perecent)
  4. Get ready to move. Evacuate.
  5. Maintain low speed with driving.
  6. Protect yourselves: wear goggles, cover your mouth and skin. 3 (10 percent)
  7. Keep the faith.
  8. Will to survive. (80 percent)

*Contributor is a practicing Physician Assistant in Henderson, Nevada, USA.

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