The Pilipiñas Packet

Sojourn in The Philippines, 2019-2020

Volume 11.2, Shaken, Not Stirred, January 13

Week 11 – Shaken, Not Stirred: Lake Taal Volcano Erupts
I had to both apologize to Carmen, and to thank her. I told her I was sorry I hadn’t given her such excitement in Canada as I have had in The Philippines in the past two plus months: Two category 3 hurricanes and now a volcanic eruption accompanied by level 3 – 5 tremors. Carmen saw no humour in my remarks.

As I reported at the tail end of Volume 11.1 of The TT, Taal Island Volcano began to let off some steam around 2:00 pm. Our balcony window points east and you have to crank your head around 90o to see Taal Island from our sliding door window. So I didn’t even notice anything happening outside until our building manager called to let us know there was nothing to be concerned about. Talaga! Nice white billows of stream were billowing up from the main cone on the island. Hmmm. As the minutes moved on to hours the billowing built up and the steam climbed, with a lot of dark sections, higher and higher into the sky. Remarkably for Lake Taal, there was almost no wind, so the cloud just kept climbing vertically. 

The Plume from our window

Eventually what breeze there was began to push the cloud easterly towards Laguna; Tagaytay, right on the ridge of the caldera and only a vertical kilometre to the shore of the Lake (and another kilometre to the island itself), is north of the plume and just out of the path of the cloud.

It’s was an odd sight to see the sun glowing across the hills of Tagaytay while just east of us was nothing but brown haze. It was odder still to realize that only a month ago we were traipsing around the rim of that volcano.

(Sad footnote: All the horses and animals on Lake Taal Island have died.)

Not that we went unscathed. I would stick my head out our patio door window to see what was going on only to receive the occasional pelt on my head. What was that? Ash. Diane, our building manager, had warned me to not go outside because of the ash. Ah, I see. Many people were wearing breathing masks, not unusual in The Philippines but certainly it was more prominent today. I eschewed it, though I probably wasn’t wise about that, especially as I already have a cold. The chunks of ash were one thing but the flying dust was significant. Not so much in Tagaytay, not overly so to raise alarm in me, unlike in neighbouring communities east and west of us. The dust contains microscopic volcanic glass shards and this is not good for lungs.
But this volcanic activity was more than a dramatic cloud; as the cloud kept on building we began to hear booms. I guessed the volcano had brought its own percussion section. But wait, there’s a lot of lightning going on out there, and where there’s lightning, there’s thunder. The massive cloud, now many kilometres tall, was wreaking havoc on the local atmosphere, and we were now seeing the most active summer storm you can imagine. 
Carmen, only lightly persuaded that staying put was our best strategy, began to get very nervous. Our 15th floor apartment was swaying gently to the periodic tremors. Carmen was shaken, she wanted out of this place; I was not yet stirred to action. She got out the suitcases and started to pack. I said this was completely unnecessary but’s if she wanted to pack for our Singapore trip on Thursday, she may as well make herself busy.
She was on the phone with family and friends and the more she talked to them the more nervous she got. Finally Celca said she was coming to get us in Tagaytay and bring us back to Trece. They could see the plume from Trece and dust was gently accumulating but had no serious affects as the wind was not blowing in their direction.
By about 6:00 the ash was now mixed with rain and the resulting precipitate was really like wet mud. And this continued all evening and all night. I guessed it must be much worse in Laguna where the prevailing winds were blowing.
Celca phoned to say the police and the army were preventing any vehicles to pass towards Tagaytay, only exit. Husband Ricki had to turn back.
This upset Carmen but I reminded her this building was new and designed for these sorts of events, hurricanes, and Richter 8+ earthquakes. She wasn’t convinced.

We no longer had internet.
By 9:00 we were experiencing more frequent and stronger tremors. It’s a bit unnerving to sit at the kitchen table and feel the room sway slightly around you, and the hanging lamps swinging seductively. And I have to admit, it wasn’t pleasant for me either – felt like I was aboard Marilyn & Robert’s sailboat again out of Collins Bay.
The power went out.
The building’s reserve diesels switched on seamlessly but the power was suspended in the units, reserved only for the hallways, staircases, security areas and the front lobby; and only one elevator was now operating. Carmen rigged up one of the large candles we had bought after Typhoon Ursula but Carmen was determined to get out of our unit and wait in the lobby. 
After three trips to the lobby with our luggage and things we forgot we settled in with a few dozen other tenants and watched the comings and goings, mostly goings.
One large pickup truck arrived at the front doors coated in mud, I mean, coated. Think a 4×4 that has been having one hell of a time in the swamp. A family of six tumbled out of it, with many belongings. I asked the man where he was coming from. Laguna he said, but he figured it would be safer here in his condo than in the mud rain of his house in Laguna. I wondered how he had passed through the Police road blocks.
As I watched them go up the remaining elevator to their suite somewhere in the upper floors I turned to Carmen and said, ‘really, this building is built for this and we may as well go back to our apartment and wait it out in the comfort of our own bed. Reluctantly, she agreed.
We settled into our bed. I considered trying to make manifest Hemingway’s famous line but it is very hard to coordinate the tremors to your own rhythm.
We slept. Or at least I slept, between trips to the bathroom. It was pitch black outside, relieved only by a few security lights in the parking lot; you couldn’t see anything so it was a mystery as to what was happening on Lake Taal. At least I felt no tremors. Not sure if Carmen ever quietened down long enough to sleep. Around 5:00 am there was a major rocking and rolling of the building. Hmmm. We stayed in bed waiting for the next big one but it never came. By 6:00 it was light enough to see evidence of the night‘s activity. The Volcano had stopped disgorging its bowel’s contents – maybe that last tremor had settled things for a while – but that didn’t mean it was finished with its business. There was a layer of sand/mud, perhaps 2 mm thick, everywhere.
Celca called and told us Ricky and JR were on their way to Tagaytay to get us. I shrugged. Surely the worst was over and we should just sit tight until Thursday when we would go to NAIA for our flight to Singapore. But then Diane called to advise that it was unlikely that Tagaytay would have power back for at least a week. And the Philippines Seismology Service were advising that Lake Taal Volcano was still at threat level 4, eruption imminent.
We left Wind Residences with enough things to last the week, and my computer! And set out for Trece. And was amazed to see the layers of dirt covering everything, roads, roofs, vegetation of all kinds, many drooping with the weight of the debris. Astoundingly, many people were on the street/highway with their Filipino brooms, sweeping.
By the time we got to McDonalds for breakfast it was still only 9:00. I got a wifi connection. Family and friends were all over me with sms, Messenger, Facebook and email, both worried and annoyed at my being incommunicado. I quickly advised that we had evacuated Tagaytay and were settled into a quaint motel/resort in General Trias City and I would be reporting later on our experience. And here you have it.
New reports indicate Taal was not settled yet. I wonder what we will find when we return from Singapore next Monday.
It was not a quiet week in Tagaytay after all.

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