Mt. Pinatubo – a story of triumph

30 years ago today, Mt. Pinatubo spewed fire and brimstones and when its occasional rumblings finally exploded into the ‘Big Bang,’ it blanketed most of Central Luzon and left more than 800 dead in its wake.

It all started out when geothermal experts tapped into the bowels of the Zambales ranges near Mt. Pinatubo to explore untapped geothermal energy. The experts allegedly abandoned exploration in the area after hissing vents of sulfur were reported in the vicinity accompanied by rumbling sounds, a portent of something to happen.

In 1991, the Philippine Senate had just decided that no new basing agreement will be signed with the US Government and residents of Angeles City ponder what probably life is without our ‘Big White Brother.’

It was one of the usual mornings in Angeles City, which then plays host to G.I Joe – when Mt. Pinatubo decided to blow its top in a cataclysmic eruption. The azure sky went pitch black at 10am in the morning as the Earth heaved. To make matters worse, tropical storm “Yunya” was also passing through raining down wet and sticky volcanic sediments.

After the ‘Big Bang’ and the ensuing chaos, boulders the size of cars, rumbled downstream like the galloping of a thousand horses wiping out the Abacan Bridge, Hensonville Bridge and Friendship Bridge.

In the following months, the rainy days would pushed down searing volcanic mud flows or “lahar” submerging thousands of houses and claiming countless lives anew.

Some 847 people were killed by the eruption, mostly by roofs collapsing under the weight of accumulated wet ash. The evacuation in the days preceding the eruption certainly saved tens of thousands of lives, and has been hailed as a great success for volcanology and eruption prediction. 

The eruption of Pinatubo severely hampered the economic development of the surrounding areas, especially Angeles City. Extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure cost billions of pesos to repair and further costs were incurred in constructing dikes and dams to control the post-eruption lahars. 

Damage to healthcare facilities and other spread of illness in relocation facilities, led to soaring death rates in the months following the eruptions. Education for thousands of children was seriously disrupted by the destruction of schools in the eruption. 

30 years after the fateful day, residents of Angeles City have turned tragedy into triumph showing the resiliency of the Kapampangan people to persevere like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes.

From tragedy to triumph – Angeles City has endured the unendurable. The double whammy – that is the Mt. Pinatubo eruptions and the withdrawal of US forces at the former Clark Air Base. / Rassel Santiago