Memories of a volcano

In Barrio Barretto, everything was an adventure. It was just me, my dad and my pal, Hotdog—a black-and-gray dachshund whose thunderous bark made up for his small size. Days were spent investigating tide pools, digging up sand worms, chasing the neighbor’s chickens and testing how far out into the water we could take the inflatable canoe without getting scared. Our house was built on a rocky mountain, with a terrace that overlooked a small garden with a lone banana tree. We had a hammock in the yard, books in the basement and a life that seemed to promise constant sunshine.

On June 12, 1991, I woke up to dark skies. It was already past noon, which was unusual for me since the crow of roosters often had me up at the crack of dawn. The streets were empty and the clouds hung low in the heavens. Even Hotdog appeared sullen. There was nothing to do but wait for the news.

A few hours later, a storm had blown in. The lights had gone out and all you could hear was the howling wind. My father told me that Mount Pinatubo, a volcano located between Zambales, Pampanga and Tarlac, had woken up. Images from the pages of National Geographic that depicted red molten lava and the ash covered bodies of the people of Pompeii during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius flickered through my mind’s eye. Like the tragedy in the Italian settlement, Pinatubo’s effects were as disastrous and far-reaching. Eruptions and tremors began as early as the 7th of June in Mount Pinatubo and its surrounding areas. But its true show of power would be on the 12th of the same month where the flare-up reached 19 km and continued to grow stronger for the next 48 hours where on the 15th it reached its peak and with the help of Typhoon Yunya, spread ash and darkness to most of Central Luzon. Over 300 people died and countless others had been displaced.

Time was spent reading old comic books by candlelight and listening to the rain beat down on the roof. Whenever the downpour would stop, we would sit outside and watch the bats and birds fly out in mutual confusion as the heavy dust made it impossible for even the animals to decipher between daylight and twilight.

As the storm raged on, my father grew agitated and began to worry that an earthquake would occur and send rocks from the mountain tumbling down to our house. We left the dog in the house and hoped that he would be alright. Hand-in-hand and armed with only a raincoat and diving goggles we faced the storm. The barrage of rain, sand and ash pelted against us like small pebbles which made it impossible to look straight out and all we could do was put one foot in front of the other. Out of nowhere, a man called out to my father and told us that we were about to walk into the ocean. He asked us where we wanted to go. My father said, “Anywhere safe.” The stranger, who seemed to be about 6 feet tall, told us to follow him. The walk seemed to last forever until a small yellow light broke through the darkness. He had taken us to the Nina Papagayo resort and beneath that single glowing bulb was a mass of locals and foreigners huddled together in safety. My father thanked him but before we could find out his identity, he disappeared into the night.

Photo from National Geographic (click image to get to site)

Dawn came several hours later and the harsh weather had lifted. People began to stir and come out of hiding. We returned home to find everything safe and intact. Hotdog and I ran through the thick layer of wet ash that covered our garden as well as the rest of the town.

Eighteen years later, I found myself back on that same beach, watching the waves roll in.

I remembered that the ash glistened like fresh snow.

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