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Mt. Pinatubo still shadows lives 20 years on

CABALANTIAN VILLAGE, Philippines (Reuters Life!) - For Corazan Zawal, memories of the devastation caused by Mount Pinatubo remain etched in her mind.
/ Source: Reuters

CABALANTIAN VILLAGE, Philippines (Reuters Life!) - For Corazan Zawal, memories of the devastation caused by Mount Pinatubo remain etched in her mind.

The massive eruption in June 1991 sent volcanic material racing down the mountain's slopes at great speed, engulfing whole villages in its path, burying homes and killing hundreds. Thousands more were displaced.

Over 5 billion cubic meters of ash was released, reaching 34 km (21 miles) up into the atmosphere. Global temperatures dropped by 0.5 degrees C for two years after millions of tonnes of sulfur dioxide ejected in the eruption blocked sunlight and cooled the earth.

For Zawal and others in hard-hit Pampanga province, still further disasters lay ahead.

In 1995, Cabalantian was completely buried when a typhoon turned volcanic sediment into lahars, or mud flows, killing hundreds more.

"In a blink of an eye, lahar was there. My older brother smashed our walls so that we could climb up to our roof," Zawal said.

"What we saw outside was everything, even houses, being whisked away by the flood. I called on my children to see if they were safe. When some of them didn't answer, I knew they were gone."

Her four-year-old niece and one-year-old grandchild were killed when a drifting house crashed against their home.

Now, two decades on, roofs from houses buried 20 feet deep protrude from the hardened lahar. A half-buried church once used for Sunday worship is cordoned off due to the chance of possible collapse.

Zawal and her family have moved back to their village and built a new house directly on top of their old one, praying such disasters will never happen again.


Pampanga governor Lilia Pineda said that the province has yet to completely recover and faces continuing difficulties with removing tonnes of sediment deposits in 18 villages.

"We still have problems with our river since everything is still silted," Pineda said.

"When there's a calamity like s strong typhoon, the water gets stuck. It doesn't go downstream to Manila Bay."

Ironically, the lahar has turned out to be useful, with sediment being removed from the towns and villages being sold as materials for construction or art.

Funds generated by the sales are used for rehabilitating the province and development projects for an indigenous tribe, the Aetas, who lived in scattered, isolated mountainous areas around Luzon island.

Following the eruption, thousands of Aetas living near the volcano descended to the lowlands. They were later relocated by the provincial government in resettlement areas near the foot of the mountain.

Roger Lawag, a tribal leader, said the Aetas were the first to experience the volcano's wrath, with dozens killed while escaping.

Now, though, with the tribe largely recovered thanks to provincial government help, he wants to give back to the community by transforming part of their ancestral land near the volcano into a tourist site.

Since the late 1990s, the provincial government has been developing tourism at Mt. Pinatubo, setting up trekking tours to the crater lake, camping, and leisure resorts that all boost the local economy.

"We want to use our mountain to achieve progress, so that the resources coming from our mountain, like our water, do not go to waste," Lawag said.

"Everyone, even the people in the lowlands, should benefit from what we have."