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‘Home Alone’ dad who shunned evacuation says leaving his house was for the best


By Ellson Quismorio and Joseph Almer Pedrajas

BOLBOK, Batangas City – The head of the family was defied by his wife and children, and it was perhaps for the best.

A resident walks as the Taal volcano continues to erupt in Agoncillo, Batangas, Jauary 13,2020. (czeasar dancel)

A resident walks as the Taal volcano continues to erupt in Agoncillo, Batangas, January 13,2020. (CZAR DANCEL / MANILA BULLETIN)

Rommel de Chavez, 38, found himself alone in his house in Lemery at the height of Taal Volcano’s eruptive activities Sunday after the rest of his family left him in favor of the much safer Batangas Provincial Sports Complex here, where hundreds are seeking refuge.

His daughter, 10-year-old Lovely Joy, recounted on Monday the harrowing moments that the household endured as Taal spewed a column of ash and shook the ground.

“Malakas po yung tama ng lindol at doon sa bahay namin, malakas po yung pagyanig. Nakakatakot po talaga (The earthquake was strong especially in our house. It was really frightening),” said the second of four siblings.

The first thing Lovely Joy asked her father was to allow them to go to the evacuation center. “Lumabas na po tayo (Let’s get out of here).”

“Pero hindi po siya napayag dahil hindi naman daw po magigiba ang bahay (But he didn’t allow it because he claimed that the house won’t crumble),” she narrated, highlighting a common trait of Filipinos to want to ride out a natural calamity at home.

That’s when her mother took matters in her own hands. “Kami na po ang bumiyahe. Hindi niya po kami sinundan. At saka lang po siya pumunta dito (We left on our own. He didn’t follow us. It’s only now that he followed us here),” Lovely Joy said.

De Chavez arrived at the sports complex Monday afternoon just before a heavy downpour–the type that would turn the thick layer of volcanic ash on the road to black sludge.

He sheepishly admitted that going to the facility, which was located outside the 14-kilometer radius “permanent danger zone” of the volcano, was a good decision.

“Yung lindol ang lakas, sunod-sunod. Na convince akong mag evacuate na rin (The tremors  were strong and incessant. It convinced me to evacuate),” De Chavez, a mall promodizer, said.

“Nagpapasalamat naman kami at na-rescue kami ng aming mayor doon. Good move na rin (I’m thankful that our mayor had us rescued. It was a good move indeed),” he added.

De Chavez said he could not abandon their house of 13 years just like that. “Nilinis ko muna bago ako umalis (I cleaned it first before leaving),” he said.

Waist-deep ashfall

Residents affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano are now concerned not only about how to rebuild their houses ruined by tremors and ashfall but how to recover lost income.

Estelita Gonzales, 47, said she and her husband do not know to how to start from scratch after their house in Barangay Tue, an island on Taal Lake, was buried by ashfall.

“Noong bumalik yung asawa ko sa bahay noong Lunes para tingnan yung aso namin, nakita nya, hanggang bewang na raw ang putik, gawa ng alikabok (When my husband went back home to look after our dog, the volcanic ash was already waist-deep),” she said.

“Hindi ko pa po alam paano magsisimula, may pinapag-aral pa kami na anim,” she added, “Sabi nga ng asawa ko sa akin: ‘Wala na tayong babalikan. Bagsak na lahat.’ Takot na takot sya (We do not know where to start. We are sending six kids to school.  My husband told me all is lost).”

Gonzales is among those whose source of income rely heavily on fishing in the lake.

“Hindi namin alam paano makakapagsurvive lalo na at sa paanan kami ng bundok nakatira (we do not know how we are going to survive.  We live at the foot of the mountain),” she added.

Bus driver Rosauro Villabos, 40, from Lemery, did not go to work Monday after he was advised of poor road visibility.

“Hindi talaga pwede bumyahe, dahil yung windshield, hindi ka makakakita sa daan. Baka aksidente lang ang abutin (It’s difficult to travel because of the heavy ashfall that blocks the windshield. I might meet an accident),” Villabos feared.

Although he wanted to report for work Tuesday, he decided not to push through because of few commuters going to and leaving the province.

“May pasok na sana ako kanina. Kaso syempre yung mga tao dito, hindi babyahe. Uunahin yung pamilya nila sa relocation (I intended to go to work but the residents here would rather attend to their families in the evacuation center than go elsewhere),” he added.

Some residents living along the coastline of Taal Lake in Barangay Bañadero in Talisay were still fishing in the lake Monday late afternoon amid the threat of volcanic debris being spewed by the volcano. At least five boats carrying fishermen were in the area by 6 p.m. Monday

After fishing from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Gary Rapirap, 49, was only able to catch two milkfish. He said, it was not usual.

“Simula noong pumutok yung bulkan, umunti kuha (Since the volcano erupted, our catch became less),” he said.

Rapirap chose to stay home even if his neighbors already evacuated.

“Ako lang naman mag-isa. Madali lang akong makatakbo ‘pag may nangyari (Am alone. I can run quickly if something happens),” he said, adding it is in Bañadero where he “could find food.”

In Barangay Cawit in Taal, tilapia caught from the Panipit River sells for P50 a kilo after an earthquake destroyed fishponds.

The constant tremors in varying degrees have caused roads and several concrete houses in Sinisian East, Lemery to crack forcing households to evacuate to safer places.

Benita Fiol, her two children and her husband evacuated their home in Lemery on foot.

“Sa sobrang panic noong lumilindol, nakalimutan na (we forgot to wear our slippers out of panic during the earthquake,” Fiol said, who was among the evacuees at an evacuation area in Cuta Cawayan.

They secured several clothes—but not their two pigs.

“Hindi na namin alam kung anong nangyari sa kanila. Yun pa naman pangkabuhayan namin (we do not know what happened to them. They were our sources of livelihood),” she added.

While many businesses in hard-hit Agoncillo and Talisay towns already closed shop, it was business as usual in Lipa, Cuenca and Alitagtag.

Most of the accommodations in towns near the hard-hit areas were fully occupied.

READ MORE: Taal victims worry on how to rebuild their homes, lives

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