TWENTY-FIVE years after the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, experts and analysts, government officials, private-sector representatives and members of academe gathered at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., for the public lecture, “25 years ago at Pinatubo: The forecast, climax and aftermath of a giant eruption,” by volcanologists Chris Newhall and Renato Solidum.
The lecture focused on the preparation and monitoring prior to the Pinatubo eruption, its lasting impact and lessons learned from the experience.
Chris Newhall, a career volcanologist from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) described the setting prior to the eruption in which a team of volcanologists from the USGS and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) made pre-eruption preparations that included safety studies, hazard map estimates, alert-level reminders and unrest trend monitoring.
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia Jr. emphasized in his remarks the importance of such collaboration in saving hundreds of lives and property from destruction.
“Thankfully, prior to the eruption, the collaboration between Phivolcs and USGS resulted in intensive studies of the volcano’s past eruption history, timely forecasts and accurate predictions, thus prompting the evacuation of 75,000 people living in the lowlands around Mount Pinatubo and of the 15,000 American servicemen and their dependents from Clark Air Base before the June 15 eruption,” Cuisia said.
The Mount Pinatubo eruption was considered as the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area in the 20th century. Director Renato Solidum of Phivolcs explained how the eruption’s pyroclastic flows, secondary explosions, and widespread and extensive ash or tephra fall caused not only the loss of lives but also a great loss of livelihood for the communities that were affected.
The loss of arable and habitable land, collapse of bridges, destruction of roads, flooding and isolation of communities, and burial of settlements and agricultural areas were some of the major challenges that the government and affected communities had to face in rebuilding their lives after the disaster.
Solidum also reiterated the importance of local and national government collaboration, availability of modern scientific information, use of documentaries and community-based information campaigns and continued monitoring of posteruption processes as the important lessons learned from the Mount Pinatubo experience.
“The need to collaborate in studying natural hazards and information sharing will reduce disaster risks,” said Cuisia, further emphasizing the relevance of the lessons learned from the Mount Pinatubo experience.
“Twenty-five years later, local communities have rebuilt their lives from the very lahar that took away what they had.”
Cuisia said of how Filipinos showed resilience and pagkakapit-bisig in pursuing rehabilitation and reconstruction programs. Lahar was eventually quarried and sold as construction material and was also turned into handicrafts or souvenirs.
The Philippine Embassy set up a booth at the lobby of the Carnegie Institution for Science during the lecture to showcase the sample products derived from Mount Pinatubo ashes.
Mount Pinatubo is also a popular ecotourism destination for climbing, hiking and kayaking today.