The Taal Eruption and Volcano Saga – 28 January 2020

 

It’s been 2 weeks and 2 days since the 2020 eruption of the Taal volcano here in Philippines where we live, and nearly two weeks since our last update. It’s actually in Batangas province, but it’s so notably visible from Tagaytay City which is in Cavite province. 

 

Taal volcano eruption 2020

Taal Erupting 2020

 

Where were you when Taal eruption happened?

 

The Americans say “Where were you…?” when JFK was shot or on “9/11” when we discovered they put their dates the wrong way around. The Taal eruption would have to have been my personal “moment”. We were at our weekender at Alfonso (Cavite) on Sunday 12th. Had some guests. Heard a rumbling and assumed thunder. Felt an earthquake. Had a few red wines, and responded with “I feel the earth…move…under my feet…” and didn’t take it seriously.

Mila is outside. Saw the lightening from the direction of the volcano. I assumed it was just a storm, and appeared to be coming from the crater. I’d never heard of volcanic lightening before. Volcanos, I admit to having been quite ignorant of their workings. So this was the start of a steep learning curve. 

We then heard about ash falling, and it was time to look it up on the net. Sure enough, Taal was in the beginning stages of an eruption and was shooting volcanic ash and steam 2 km into the air! That ash blew as far as Manila. 

 

 

And the earthquakes? We sat and felt I would say a quake every 5 minutes over the next 5 hours! Freaky? Indeed yes! You start to wonder how much a house can take before it collapses on you, and will the next quake be huge? 

And the warning bulletin from PhiVolcs said it was Alert Level 4, which meant a dangerous eruption was imminent within hours or days. It warned everyone within a 14km radius should evacuate! Then the power went off and the mobile internet wasn’t strong enough for me to find out how close we were. We sat in the car outside in the pitch black and continued to enjoy the ground shaking and the light-show from the crater! 

Was the Taal eruption scary? My oath it was! It was just me and Mila, with the kids being back home where I assumed they were safer than we were. But it was dark in terms of light and fresh information, so we were just alone with our thoughts. Our driver was on the way, but was taking a long time. Then it looked like he couldn’t get through, because the ash-fall was so bad he was almost driving blind. They passed 3 fatal crashes and didn’t even see! 

Well, he did get through! Around the next corner the ash-fall had ceased, so he continued and arrived fairly quickly at that point. Better than facing the night in a car wondering whether we were about to be buried in ash or maybe lava! We had literally no idea what was happening!

Well, yes. We got home. Power was on. Ash was 2” thick outside. But further ash-fall was just a light dusting from that point on. The roof and surrounds needed some fairly full-on cleaning over the next few days, and everyone started wearing masks outside because of the danger from breathing the stuff in. It has fine particles of glass in it, so not good for the lungs!

 

Ash on the road outside

 

Taal – Following days and weeks

 

We were lucky to maintain power supply and internet. The kids were off school. Schools just re-opened this week after a two-week break. They’re very good about this in Philippines. If there’s a typhoon or even just a lot of rain, schools are cancelled. Saves incidents of school kids being washed-away by flood water or bowled over on the roads. I can’t remember a single case of schools being closed due to weather in Australia when I went to school! I suppose Sydney lacked those sort of extremes. 

My main task at that point was to try to educate myself in what was actually going on. Harder than you think it would be. Plenty of panic-merchants out there warning me to do a frantic escape. Didn’t know if there was going to be a repeat of the extreme ash-fall, and the thought of trying to take our household (11 adults, 9 kids!) out on the road in search of accomodation……well….wasn’t gonna happen! Could have been much worse.

What worried me particularly was the “14 km danger zone”! They maintained throughout that everyone 14km from the crater should evacuate immediately! Well, we’re about 25km from there. However the thought of a 14km radius (28km diameter) scorched-earth just down the road was a bit freaky! Again, I knew nothing about volcanoes! Explosions of lava burning and burying everything in site! Couldn’t get much clarity for a few days, but I kept my inner-panic under wraps. You do that when you have those who depend on your calm exterior, so you maintain that despite how you really feel.

So I quietly worried. Then suddenly one of the bulletins added a clarifying word which made me finally able to sleep well and be awake well. They said that the risk within 14km of the crater was of a volcanic TSUNAMI! Yes, a whopping big wave of water that would wash away anybody and anything in its path. Scary stuff, but for us? Not when there’s a 610 meter high cliff between the water and Tagaytay on the top! Most Tsunamis are 3 meters high at the most. They’ve been known to reach 9 meters. But not 610 meters!

So we resigned to waiting for further ash-falls and possible power cuts. Didn’t go to Alfonso the first weekend. Happily returned this weekend, and saw the warning level drop to Alert Level 3! Yayyyyyy!

 

Tagaytay – A Ghost Town almost

 

Drove back home last night through Tagaytay, as we always do at the end of the weekend. Most Sunday nights the traffic is heavy. Tagaytay is THE place for Manila people with money to disappear to. The elevation makes it considerably cooler. Take 4 degrees C off Manila temp, and you have Tagaytay at any time of year. Not much pollution. Not much crime. Restaurants everywhere. Hotels everywhere. And this fantastic view of the crater with lake and normally-peaceful volcano! You can sit it restaurants and look out the window at an absolutely glorious view! 

Normally weekdays are fairly steady, but weekends are crowded. Traffic all the way of the Santa Rosa – Tagaytay Rd, all the way through the town. We would leave at 10:00pm just to miss the worst of it. Last night? Not the case at all!

Have to say I felt very sorry for those merchants, restaurant and hotel owners all along there. The place is virtually dead! Most businesses are closed. Condo buildings are all dark. Even big hotels like Taal Vista are closed. Dark. Quiet. Very creepy. I just hope the panic will end soon and people will start to visit again. I fear quite a few will have gone bankrupt or are not going to be far off it. No doubt people will be fearful of dangers there for quite a while. 

But fortunately as I said, WE’RE fine. Down Under Visa was never in any danger, and we didn’t close a single day. Someone asked me if our kids were scared. I said “No! They thought it was fun!” One said that the “Thousand million water would save us.” Another said that God would save us. They lead a charmed existence!

Entirely up to you if you will visit Tagaytay soon. We will continue to do so. I hope that plenty of people do, because it will always be a lovely part of the world.

 

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Jeff Harvie is a Registered Migration Agent from Australia, but resident in Philippines since 2010 with his Filipina wife Mila and large extended family. Experienced with the Philippines culture, cross-cultural relationships and bureaucracy as well as Australian visas and Australian Migration Law, he writes with authority and fortunately with enough informality and humour that the average Aussie gets it!

 

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