‘Fire flew’: Elders fear a repeat of the 1965 Taal Volcano eruption

Rambo Talabong
‘Fire flew’: Elders fear a repeat of the 1965 Taal Volcano eruption
Elders from Batangas recall the 1965 Taal Volcano eruption, which killed 200 with rock fragments, thick ashfall, and acid rain

 

CAVITE, Philippines – Lorna Ortiz was awakened by her parents shouting for her to pack up.

Everything was shaking, and she heard a deep and overwhelming roar coming from outside their home in Laurel, Batangas. She was only a 6-year-old child.

“Are we going to ride the airplane?” asked the sleepy Lorna, clueless about noise outside.

Her mother shook her head, fear in her eyes: “No, the volcano has erupted.”

Over 50 years later, Lorna Ortiz, now 61, still remembered how they had to leave everything they knew as home to be safe. She didn’t want it to happen again, yet there she was standing in an evacuation site in Alfonso, Cavite – displaced once more as her town was locked down. (WATCH: Life inside an evacuation center amid Taal Volcano’s unrest)

She remembered a column of fire and ash shooting up from the volcano. She saw lightning flash as the smoke curled to the sky.

“Nananapon ang apoy (Fire flew),” said Lorna.

When Taal began to erupt on Sunday, January 12, she refused to accept that danger had befallen them in Laurel again.

“I couldn’t leave my animals…But then when my cows began to make noises. That’s when I finally left,” Lorna said.

Lorna Ortiz is one of the many senior citizens in localities surrounding Taal who have been experiencing the unwelcome deja vu. In 1965, Taal Volcano erupted at Mt Tabaro, leaving 200 dead from its violent eruption, characterized by falling rocks, ashfall and a 25-centimeter thick deposit, and acid rain.

In Lorna’s evacuation site of about 400 people, there were 28 who were children when Taal erupted in 1965. (TIMELINE: Taal Volcano eruptions since 1572)

REMEMBERING. Ponciano Tenorio says he was more amused than afraid of Taal Volcano's eruption in 1965. Photo by Charles Salazar/Rappler

In another part of the camp, Ponciano Tenorio, 63, smoked a cigarette as he watched children play in the makeshift alleys between the tents. Instead of terror, he has kept the earlier explosion as a memory of amusement.

He was a grade 4 student then, also in Laurel. His parents, he recalled, did not immediately see the eruption as coming from Taal.

“They thought it came from the oil refinery,” he said, referring to a Caltex oil refinery set up back then. 

They realized the rumbling meant trouble when they saw their neighbors heading out. Back then, they walked in a procession, as vehicles, even jeepneys, were a luxury.

According to the two, the 1965 eruption was stronger than the recent unrest of Taal. But what was worse, Lorna said, was that the explosion happened at dark.

“When it’s nighttime, it’s scary, because you have to gather the kids,” she said, referring to children either panicking or getting excited over a calamity.

As of Thursday evening January 16, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said it observed “weak emission of steam-laden plumes 800 meters high” coming from Taal’s main crater. Still, they expect the worst to come.

How do you deal with an eruption? Both elders advised residents in locked down areas to evacuate and listen to the government’s advisories.

Kung anong nawala sa kanila, baka maibalik din sa kanila kung anuman yun (Whatever they will lose, they can still get it back),” Ponciano said. – Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.