Alberta Filipinos providing assistance to Taal victims

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Some Filipino Albertans saw firsthand the latest eruption of Taal volcano on Jan. 12, while others could only sit by at home worrying about their loved ones who lived in the area.

Last month Taal suddenly erupted, emitting a hazardous colossal ash cloud, and activity on the Philippine tourist island came to a sudden halt.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) issued an alert level 4, gearing local governments for an impending hazardous explosion. A series of earthquakes trembled the region, obligating local government units to declare a total lockdown of 199 barangays and 15 municipalities in Batangas and the nearby province of Cavite. Almost 2,000 families within the 14-kilometer radius out of their homes, as the surrounding areas were covered in volcanic dust. The normally vibrant and picturesque landscape turned grey and electricity went out, turning nearby towns into ghost towns.

The effect of Taal’s eruption magnified as it continuously spewed ash that reached nearby provinces in Calabarzon, Central Luzon, and Metro Manila. Visibility and air quality were greatly affected that classes, businesses and flights were suspended.

Kris Salumbides was on vacation with his family in the Philippines when the volcano erupted. He saw the devastation from the news reports and immediately initiated an effort to raise funds and help the displaced families in Batangas.

“I contacted my friends in Calgary and Edmonton, sharing the devastating news and without second thoughts, they offered to help and raised funds,” says Salumbides.

He reached out to the local government in Batangas where he was directed to San Luis, a small municipality that was difficult to reach and did not receive immediate relief.

With the help of friends and family in Canada, Salumbides was able to gather sufficient funds. Within 72 hours after his call for assistance, he was set to visit San Luis with friends and volunteers, bringing in packed goods like groceries, water, toiletries and masks.

Seeing the smiles of children who were wearing the same clothes and adults who were not able to deal with their hygienic needs for a week made their efforts worth it, he says.

According to reports from the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 1,813 families were displaced, taking temporary shelter in 40 evacuation centers. While farmers try to come back for their livestock and some families insisting on going back to gather valuable items from their homes, the police and the military were firm in keeping the residents out of the danger zone as PHIVOLCS retained the alert at level 4.

Aimee Cowley, a detective with the Calgary Police Service, commends how the government managed the tense situation on the ground. Her retired parents both live in Talisay, one of the affected municipalities in Batangas, and were home when the volcano erupted.

Cowley felt uneasy when her parents refused to leave at first.

“Because it was our family home, it was difficult for them to leave even when the situation outside was already really bad,” Cowley says. “They only left when it was already the military who knocked on their door.”

“I’ve seen improvements on how the government manages calamities and act upon it the best they could,” she says.

She was relieved when her parents finally left the danger zone and sought shelter in one of their family friends’ houses outside the zone.

Known as the world’s smallest and the Philippine’s second most active volcano, Taal remains one of the most popular tourist destinations south of Manila. Resting in the province of Batangas, the volcano had only a few minor activities in the past 40 years.

More than a month after the eruption, PHIVOLCS downgraded Taal’s alert level to 2, which signifies a decrease in unrest. According to an advisory released by the agency, “local government units are advised to additionally assess previously evacuated areas within the seven-kilometer radius for damage and road accessibility and to strengthen preparedness, contingency, and communication measures in case of renewed unrest.”

While most families are back in their homes, residents were still asked to practice precautions as ground displacement and earthquakes may still occur.