Lahar-prone Albay town undergoes disaster preparation drill

Residents of Santo Domingo town in Albay realize the importance of family and community cooperation during calamities

Mavic Conde

Published: 10:05 AM August 10, 2019

Updated: 6:08 PM August 12, 2019

GUIDED. Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management staff facilitate the evacuation drill in Santo Domingo, Albay. Photo courtesy of Casandra Balala.

ALBAY, Philippines – What is in a town’s ethnic name? Often, it is a reference to something endemic like plants. Sometimes, it serves as a warning.

Take for example the town of Santo Domingo in this province, which is within the Mayon Volcano permanent danger zone (PDZ). Its former name was “Libog,” which means "murky water" in the dialect.

That is due to the frequent lahar flow and flooding from the volcano to the edge of the town, wrote Albay cultural worker and award-winning novelist Abdon Balde Jr in an essay he posted on Facebook.

Sixty years after its name was changed, the hazards that it referred to remain true. And this will always be as long as there are people residing in high risk areas.

This was the reason why a lahar simulation exercise was recently held in this town as part of Anticipation Action for Lahar Risks Program by ANDAM LAHAR. 

ANDAM LAHAR is a community-based project which focuses on preparation for potential lahar risks for areas in the PDZ, including Daraga and Camalig.

The project is supported by the START Network fund, a consortium of international nongovernmental organizations working in the humanitarian context.

Lahar simulation and evacuation drill

Eighty-six individuals from barangay Lidong in this town joined this activity which would prepare them for the possible risks of lahar flow.

According to Joselito Cestina of Philippine Information Agency Albay, the drill involved evacuation to the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (MDRRMC) Office, registration, and medical check-ups. Then, participants were guided to their respective areas.

In 2006 during Typhoon Reming, part of this town was wiped out with 24 casualties and 6 missing due to lahar or mudflow. Several towns around the volcano were also severely affected, from Daraga and Guinobatan and Legazpi City.

Lahar is triggered by torrential rainfall, like what happened in that disaster.

THANKFUL. Ariston Bañares was with his blind relative during the activity, which he was grateful for. Photo courtesy of Joselito Cestina.

Purok head Helen Salvadora shared that communication was a challenge, especially when some residents do not follow instructions from the authorities. Evacuee Babylyn Canapit said  it was hard evacuating with a PWD child.

Francelline Jimenez, project manager for CARE Philippines – one of the convening organizations for ANDAM LAHAR –  said simulations are essential for communities to be more disaster-prepared and therefore resilient.

She added that “it is an opportunity for the communities to be more bonded together in protecting each and everyone’s lives.”

The participants realized after the drill the importance of family and community cooperation by knowing how to act in times of calamities.

Why focus on lahar drill

According to Jimenez, this is their first time to do a simulation solely focused on lahar risks which is a constant for communities around Mayon Volcano.

“Some people think that preparing for lahar is the same for flooding or typhoons. But this is not necessarily the case,” she said.

“This drill can help validate too our newly developed lahar preparedness plan for the partner communities,” she added.

These range from distribution of early warning kits, installation of rain gauge equipment, training on data collection, and on lahar module for municipal and barangay level, besides simulation exercises.

Importance of disaster markings

Local geologist Chris Newhall also emphasized that preserving and putting good signage on memorial sites has educational and tourism value. But most importantly, he said it made people aware of what the volcano can do.

He cited Japan as an example. Where ground ruptures due to an earthquake, or where a village was buried, they partially excavate it; build a giant roof over it; and carefully turn it into a permanent museum for students and tourists.

He said there were some sites in Santo Domingo that are still open for discussion, such as those reached by the 1897 eruption – the second deadliest recorded eruption of Mayon Volcano.

“There is a boulder-size bomb at the roadside coming from San Roque to Upper San Roque that marked the front of the flow. And along the diversion highway between Misericordia and Fidel Surtida, in the excavation area for a memorial park, were found spectacular bombs which were so big that it stalled the work,” he said.

Locals named this eruption pangirikiti because the sound generated by the hot pyroclastic materials sounded like oil when frying fish.

Both Newhall and Balde are advocates of paying close attention to history, which fits in this program’s goal: to increase awareness which is crucial in making systemic and efficient evacuation process.

It also means a lesson on how renaming a town can make people forget and suffer the consequences. –