In June 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century took place on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, a mere 90 kilometers (55 miles) northwest of the capital city Manila. Up to 800 people were killed and 100,000 became homeless following the Mount Pinatubo eruption, which climaxed with nine hours of eruption on June 15, 1991. (Rosenberg, n.d.)
Mt. Pinatubo is a stratovolcano The volcano experienced major eruptions approximately 500, 3000, and 5500 years ago. Pinatubo is located in the central portion of the Zambales mountain range. Before the eruption, Mount Pinatubo was covered with vegetation and was home to more than 30,000 people, who lived in villages on its slopes. Thousands of others lived in the valleys surrounding the volcano, including U.S. military personnel stationed at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station. Before 1991, there had been no record of volcanic activity. (Fennell, 2003)
In prior to the eruption of the volcano, Mt. Pinatubo was considered active only in 1987. However, there were no unusual happenings in Pinatubo prior to the 1990 earthquake - the year before the eruption. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurred in Luzon that shook the whole island, and since the epicenter is in Nueva Ecija, and Mt. Pinatubo is in the boundary of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales, Pinatubo was essentially shook. Then, reactivation started which was reported by people living in the slopes of the volcano to PHIVOLCS. (Solidum, 2016).
Dr. Renato Solidum Jr., the director of PHIVOLCS who was 29 years old that time and was already working as a geologist in the US went back to the Philippines to monitor and document Mt. Pinatubo’s activity when it was reportedly reactivating.
Majority of the casualties brought about by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 revolved around the massive destruction of lahar produced. It deposited 3 cubic kilometers of ash, covering lands that surround the volcano. (Newhall, 2005) Dr. Renato Solidum, Jr. have mentioned that most of the incidents which have caused deaths are the accumulated ash on the roofs that have collapsed. Mercy Mendoza, a house helper have experienced the tragedy at 31 years old.
Myrna is living near San Guillermo Church, known as the “Sunken Church” in Bacolor, Pampanga.
She recalls how traumatic it was to her and her daughter when they were almost buried by the lahar since they only have a first-floor house. They survived by climbing up to the roof and waited for her brother-in-law to rescue them.
In the agricultural aspect of the damages that the lahar brought are the burying of all crops, animals, farm and forest lands, public infrastructures, and natural waterways. The lahar has filled streams causing overbank flows, and flooding. (Mercado, 1999) Juanito Fernandez Jr., a 54 year-old farmer tells his story in experiencing the 1991 Pinatubo eruption.
Juanito recalls being frightened and depressed because of one, being far from his family for he made his wife and children go to Manila to be safe. He was left behind to look after their house and farming land. Secondly, seeing his crops and some of the farm animals dying.
After the eruption, he has described how the primary source of income of the people in Sta. Rita, Pampanga have shifted from planting crops to cultivating tilapia due to the altered lands in their place.
“Noong una maganda ang ani ng mga tilapia. Biruin mong tatlong buwan at tsaka dalawang linggo, mahaharvest mo na. Malalaki ang mga tilapia.”
But after sometime, people have slowly went back to their original source of living which is farming.
One of the barangays in San Fernando, Pampanga that was hardly destructed is the San Pedro.
Kap. Loilo was also the barangay captain in 1991. He cannot forget how their barangay have been flooded by the lahar and that he cannot do anything about it.
“Halos natabunan ang mga lupain ng magsasaka, pati ‘yong mga market road natabunan lahat. Natakot kami dahil akala namin magugunaw na ang mundo”.
They were warned and aware about the eruption of Pinatubo, but they did not expect that the destruction is going to be that big.
“Dati malakas makapangitlog ‘yong mga manok, itik, namin sa lupa tsaka dayami. Ngayon, kahit isa, wala ka nang makikita. Puro buhangin na lang.”
The effects in agricultural landscapes and economic factors might have been not controlled but because of the efforts done by PHIVOLCS lead by the late Director Raymundo Punongbayan, the number of mortality rate has greatly reduced.
There were around 50,000 Aetas who lived in the slopes of the volcano through fishing, hunting, and farming. (Chaumeau, 2001. And they were saved through the early warnings and dissemination of information by PHIVOLCS to the whole country and therefore have done early measurements for evacuations.
However, they were forced to retrieve from the mountains due to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and some of the Aetas refused to evacuate while some wanted to go back eventually. One of these is Kontsing Laksamana.
Apong Kontsing, at her old age does not remember her actual age but the memory of the difficulties she had experienced with adapting to the place where she and her aeta community were evacuated still lingers to her.
On the otherhand, Wilson Gutierez at the young age of 8 has already experienced and witnessed one of the disastrous calamities in the century.
But like all the survivors that have survived the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, after 25 years, everyone is grateful and positive with what their present conditions now.
The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 has greatly altered the livelihood, agricultural fields, and properties in Central Luzon and has left unforgettable experiences and stories to the survivors. This is a history that will be kept remembered by every people who experienced it. The calamity is certainly a sorrowful memory to the people but it is a great learning; a test to the resilience and strong faith of the Filipinos.
BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS
(Slide the button to see comparison)
According to Dr. Solidum, the activity that we need to focus more is the continuing effect of the lahars now. On the Pinatubo slopes, there are thick ash deposits that are lodged. Around 50% of it have been remobilized as lahars , but then these deposits are temporarily part only of the middle slopes such that when they get remobilized there will still be a continuing threat. That is the major impact of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, that the threat of the lahar is still lingering and can linger for many more years.
He also added that Pinatubo is kind of quiet when it comes to its activity now. Of course there is still a magmatic activity going beneath but not that active. From time to time there are also small earthquakes that are happening, and that is normal. So in terms of the threat to the population there is nothing to be worried about.
Special thanks to:
Mr. Norman Zafra, Dr.Renato Solidum Jr., Mr. Stauro Punongbayan, and Mr. & Mrs. Ostaco