Let me backtrack a little... say January 1, 1991. Just say "Mt. Pinatubo" to anybody and they'll just say "what?". Nobody knows then that there is a mountain named Mt. Pinatubo. And that this Mt. Pintubo is actually a volcano, and that this volcano had actually erupted about 450 years ago. And since there is not a single record of that eruption, it may actually just a whimpered dud poop.
For me, the only thing I know of a Mt. Pinatubo is that it is the name of the airplane carrying President Magsaysay when it crashed in Mt. Manunggal at Cebu. And that Johnny Rico from the novel Starship Troopers consider our Magsaysay his beloved hero. And yes Rico is a Filipino from that book, a fact lost in the film adaptation. (I'm getting off topic, I know.)
So where is Mt. Pinatubo? Although it is part of the Zambales Mountain range it is actually much nearer to Pampanga, and that it is about 15 kilometers nearer to Clark Air Base. Which means 6 round trip on the Parade Ground. That near!!
Although there were some prior minor whimpers, the volcano actually erupted in style on June 12, 1991, a Wednesday and to say that it looks like a mushroom is not actually true. See here...
It doesn't look like a mushroom, it looks more like a giant silvery, fluppy and beautifully edible Cauliflower, like so...
On that day, I was at home, like I've always did for the past three months. I was jobless, OK already? Thank you. I was chopping vegetables for noodled chop suey (see now why I say cauliflower?). Wife goes to work and so did everybody else. Daughter is out playing (3 years old, going 4 on August), and then at about 9:00 A.M., there was shouting outside. "Memakbung ne!" - It erupted! I ran out of the house like everybody else in Central Luzon, and there you see this big Cauliflower as it slowly and eerily grows sky high. Very similar to what I am holding, on the left hand, the right one has a chopping knife. Everybody's watching that thing grows for about an hour. Boring. Another eruption layering the first could not be discerned. Boring.
Little facts, if I may. Clark Air Base had been totally evacuated by now. Only skeletal forces are out there working. My father in law who works for Flying Tigers/FedEx had transferred from CAB to Subic. People living near the foot of the volcano also had been evacuated to evacuation centers (where else, dimwit?). Angeles City was not evacuated. Pole dancers in Fields Avenue and First Street Balibago wink at each other and tap danced fully dressed. Pinoys who work for CAB welcomed the long vacation.
I said boring right? Now it is June 15, 1991, Saturday. Wife had gone to work. There was this typhoon named Diding. Normal, its typhoon season. But then just before 2 P.M. Mt. Pinatubo erupted. And this is the Great One. I went to the house roof just to see a better view, but the damn typhoon's rain obscured it. About an hour later, it rained small stones, and pebbles. Here in Magalang, man!. That's about 35 kilometers away from the volcano, it rained pebbles and stones, man! I was oblivious that this thing is going nasty. So I got a tub out to the garden to gather souvenirs for my child. I was saying "diamonds, diamonds" while me and my child pick one after another. We were enjoying this thing, really. We've even walked out with an umbrella.
About an hour later, the tub is full, and it is now raining ash and stones and pebbles. Daughter is scared, I am scared. My wife has not yet arrived. I could not call her. No telephone yet in Magalang, then and no cellphone. My sister-in-law and Voltaire (her husband) and their kid arrived together with Voltz brother. I was now in panic mode. Where's my wife? My parents and brothers and sister lives in Dau. Where are they now? I had hoped and prayed that they left the place. My wife works for ElectroWorld, also in Dau. I am now in deep panic.
At 3:30 P.M. it is now evening. It is also raining, not of rain but of ash and mixed ash and rain called mud. Wife arrived. I was relieved, very much relieved. By then we've decided to go to Friendship to fetch the workers of my sister-in-laws business. Casket-making. Whoa. We've boarded Voltz service vehicle, customized to carry about 16 stacked coffins, you know. I carried two buckets with water for cleaning the windshield. Its a go.
People are walking towards Magalang, some are carrying umbrellas, some looks like mud people, children shivering looking exhausted. It was so dark, and the trucks lights are muddied. I have to go clean them once in a while aside from the windshield.
Sugarcane are all vowing to the ground. The rice paddies are covered with thick layer of mud. Carabaos, cows, goats and ducks are on the road all going to Magalang or where ever far, while we go to the opposite direction. There is no more discernible road, branches from trees are scattered here and there. Jeeps, cars and trucks are stalled. Crying people, some carrying dogs, cats, chickens, ducks just walking away from that ghastly monster.
When we were just about to cross the overpass bridge of the Expressway, we've stopped. The tollway is littered with abandoned vehicles. People are walking some vehicles are running to a crawl. Again carabaos are also there pulled by their masters. Now there is something wrong with this picture.
It is not that the tollway is free. But that not a single vehicle is crossing the overpass bridge towards Angeles City. They are either coming from Angeles City or are going to the expressways tollgate entry. We're the only one up there. And now it looks like midnight, lightning is now atop Mt. Pinatubo. Somebody said that a bridge had already collapsed. I asked myself which bridge? Abacan? Friendship? Hensonville spillway? The expressway bridge? The train rail bridge? I asked that man who said that, and he said he'd just heard it.
We decided then that it is futile to go. We've just hoped that those workers managed to flee. And so we went back for Magalang. Along the way we picked up some people who are too tired to walk, the casket service is now carrying live people. And whenever we stalled, there were always hands to kickstart the vehicle.
To be continued....(if ever). Drnuk