Volcanic Eruption Mt. Pinatubo
It was very difficult to describe how scary it was to see ashes everywhere. I was in high school at that time. There was no middle school in the Philippines when we lived there in Lucena, Quezon Province. I’m not going to put the date of when this might have occurred because I distinctly remember moving to the United States when I was 12 years old and attending 7th grade in middle school.
It is vividly imprinted in my memory how crazy it seemed to see ashes everywhere and experience aftershock earthquakes after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo Volcano. To give you some context, it is known that there is overpopulation, and the student ratio in high school was large, from 50–60 students per class, and there was 50 sections total per grade from freshman to senior year. I was in the top 10 section classes, which was very competitive. Unlike here in the USA, we began our day by exercising outside in the field with the entire school every morning. Let’s calculate 50 x 50 = 2500 per grade level x 4 grades which equals approximately 10,000 students in our high school.
Remember the number I gave above. We used outside stadiums where we sat in the open with shade from the sun, thankfully. I honestly do not miss the humidity my body learned to adapt to after a few years. Blackboards were placed at the top of the stadiums with teachers writing on the board as they lectured. It was common to ask students to write on the blackboard for the also; I was one of the scribes. When people asked about my beautiful handwriting, I could attest to all the writing I had to do on the blackboards in high school in the Philippines. Unlike the USA, we also did not have the big thick hard, cover books. We needed to scan or make a copy of a borrowed version in the library as a resource. Hence, we all learned to be scribes and take many notes. You can imagine my surprise coming to middle school in the USA, where students threw around their hardbook-covered books as if they were trash!
Let’s get back to my experience of Mt. Pinatubo aftershock the earthquake. We all woke up one morning blurry-eyed seeing everything was grey outside. The clouds and sky were very dark and gloomy. I did have to rub my eyes a few times to verify I did not imagine that everything looked grey. The buildings, roads, and the grass fields in the high school were covered with ash. My parents owned a house right behind the high school campus, almost right in the middle of the main road called “Habito St.” This was my Dad’s (Fernando L. Habito) father's legacy he left. My grandpa died as one of the Chief Police Officers in Lucena City, Quezon Province, Philippines. Many families respected and valued the work our grandpa provided. He died young too!
I looked through the 2nd-floor balcony window covered with steel protection guards. It is well known that burglary and break-ins will happen if we don’t put steel guard bars there. We had people from the squatter areas who were poor and did not have many places they could go. There was no Social Security support, unemployment, or insurance that people could use like in the USA. There is no fallback if you are unlucky enough to be born poor and live through bad circumstances. I tell you this because this background is usually forgotten or taken for granted. We learned and are instructed to wear bandanas to cover our faces and use anything that could allow us to breathe through all the ashes still lingering in the air.
We all went about our normal lives, went to school, worked, or did what most people did to survive. Imagine sitting in the grand stadium while in class and seeing the building shake, then the land move like it was water. I looked up at the roof, hoping nothing would fall on me. I looked at the beams and pillars that held the roof to make sure nothing would topple down or know where to go if it did. We were too high in the grand stadium to jump over. We would surely break bones or die from jumping. The students and teachers, still in shock, froze there as I did. There were no other alternatives. The students in the open field toppled over and fell on their faces, unable to steady themselves as the land moved like ocean waves. It seemed like the land moved over six (6) feet high from the aftershock after Mt. Pinatubo Volcano erupted.
After some time, things eventually cleared, and the community began rebuilding destroyed facilities and roads or cleaning areas they could. I will never forget this natural disaster. Even when I try to recall it, I’m thankful we all survived. It reminds me daily to be gracious and realize that life is too short. Time does not wait on anyone. I’ve experienced so many natural disasters from nature, violence, and traumatic experiences from people. I truly live life as if it is the last day of today.