An unexpected volcanic eruption

By Fr. Joseph Sia

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Manila, Philippines to visit my mother and accompany her for a medical check-up. While I was there, Taal Volcano, located around 50 miles south of Manila, became active and spewed ash up to nine miles into the air on Sunday, Jan. 12, at around 2 p.m.

Fr. Sia

Numerous pictures and videos surfaced on social media depicting the large mush­room cloud that formed above the volcano. Ob­vi­ously, those living near the volcano were severely affected by the ash fall. Towns within a nine-mile radius of the volcano were ordered evacuated and the area was closed off to all persons except emergency responders and media personnel. At least 14,000 people were affected. So far, no reports of deaths have been made, which is a pleasant surprise considering there was barely any warning of the eruption. Authorities had raised the alert level to one (the lowest of five) a few months ago, meaning some activity was detected. However, Taal is known as an active volcano, so many didn’t pay much attention and, frankly, there’s not much to be done for an alert level one. The rapid escalation of volcanic activity resulted in many people not being prepared to leave their homes and farms right away.

Those of us in Manila experienced a relatively light amount of ash fall the evening of the eruption. I remember stepping out of our house that night and noticing lots of dirty cars. I didn’t know that the “dirt” was caused by the particles of ash that had fallen on the city. The next morning, I checked on the plants in our garden and saw leaves covered with a thin layer of a grayish-colored substance. We were advised to wear masks to protect ourselves from inhaling volcanic dust. The Manila international airport was closed for a day because of the ash, which could be dangerous if ingested into the engines of an airplane.

Things returned to normal a couple of days later but, admittedly, there was an uneasy sense of calm since the volcano remained active. Those who had to evacuate were still not allowed to go back to their homes, but some defied the order so that they could retrieve whatever belongings they left behind and feed their animals. As I write this article, the alert is at level four and authorities continue to warn of a possible larger, more destructive eruption.

This is actually my second experience of a volcanic eruption. The first one happened in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo, around 54 miles north of Manila, woke up after almost 500 years of dormancy. I remember the sky becoming so blackened by ash that it looked as dark as night at 3 o’clock in the afternoon the day Pinatubo erupted.

I tell these stories to highlight the fact that life is unpredictable. We don’t need to be living near a volcano to realize that we never know what is going to happen to us later today or tomorrow or next week. I invite all of you to appreciate every moment and to seek God’s presence always. Be grateful for what you have. Be focused on what is truly precious — the Kingdom of God — and ask God to help you live your life according to his will so that you may be prepared for whatever happens.

No one knows what will happen to Taal Volcano or the people most affected by its eruption. They could be displaced for many months, and the health effects of the volcanic eruption could surface years afterwards. I ask for your prayerful support for your brothers and sisters half a world away, that they receive the help they need during this difficult time and in the future.

(Fr. Sia is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or sia@davenportdiocese.org.)

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