CANDELARIA, Zambales—Fear has struck residents and resort owners in Barangay (village) Uacon here as a large portion of the village coastline has been reclaimed by the sea.
On Saturday, residents reported the appearance of what they called a sinkhole, a large bowl-shaped depression in an area that usually appears without warning.
Joseph Elifane, 43, caretaker of a nearby resort, told the
Inquirer that his 19-year-old son, Jordan, discovered the supposed sinkhole while he was walking along the shore at about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Elifane said Jordan felt the ground was giving in under his feet, so he jumped away and saw that a depression had formed where he was standing minutes earlier.
Jordan ran to his father and reported what he saw. Village officials were called to the site and onlookers and residents were warned to stay away from the area.
“We watched as the water [ate away] at the sand in the shoreline. It was unusual because [large portions] of the shoreline were tearing off and just disappearing in the water,” said Elifane.
Manuel Montejo, 53, who has been living in Uacon for more than 20 years now, was among the residents who witnessed the phenomenon. He said the shearing off of the shoreline went on for a few hours, spreading fear and concern among villagers.
“We did not know when it will end. There was already a large area that was gone,” he said.
Montejo said some villagers stood near where the ground was giving in and observed that a part of the coastline had sunk by “sampung dipa” (10 yards or 30 feet).
He said some jumped into the water in the area reclaimed by the sea and one of them estimated that it was about as deep as four people standing on top of each other.
“It used to [be a] slope, but now it’s a steep drop. You could drown there. I’ve been here a long time and this was the first time this has happened,” Montejo said.
Lawyer Danilo Uykieng, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director in Central Luzon, said an initial investigation showed that the affected area spans 80 to 100 meters wide.
“At the moment, the area is stable,” he said. When the Inquirer visited the area on Monday, it was cordoned off by plastic ropes with notes written on sheets of bond paper saying, “Restricted area under MGB investigation.”
Uykieng said the MGB’s marine geology team and personnel of the Philippine Army, Navy and Coast Guard started a ground survey on Monday.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said equipment that would be used in the study had been sent to Zambales.
Paje said he and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had surveyed the area by helicopter on Sunday and saw no evidence that mining may have been involved in the incident.
He said the study would determine the cause of the incident and its “scientific basis.”
But an MGB personnel, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to reporters, said: “If it really was a sinkhole, a whirlpool would have formed. But residents have been telling us that did not happen. But it is clear there was [substantial] erosion of the coastline. We have to know how severe it was and what caused it.”
But none of this brings any comfort to residents who feared that the worst is still to come.
Businesses, too, have been affected, as resort owners feared customers would stay away from the village due to safety issues.
A supervisor of a nearby resort said: “That’s what we really want to know—is it still safe? Not just for our customers but for people here, even for local fishermen. That’s why we really want the [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] to tell us why this happened.”
Elifane said he feared that the erosion of their coastline would continue with the onset of the rainy season and with strong waves hitting the shoreline.
A source in the Army said a water examination had been conducted in the area on Monday morning and the US Navy would send divers to survey the area.
Although the area has been declared restricted starting Saturday, people continue to visit Uacon after learning of the incident.
But for the most part, it has been uneventful since Saturday night, Elifane said, and that normal soil erosion caused by the lapping of the waves of Uacon’s shoreline was all that was happening.
“But of course, we really do not know if that was the end of it. I hope that does not happen again,” he said.