Off-roaders unheralded heroes in Pinatubo disaster | Inquirer News
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Off-roaders unheralded heroes in Pinatubo disaster

MINALIN, Pampanga—Drivers of off-road vehicles (also called 4 by 4, four-wheel drives or all-terrain vehicles) are unheralded heroes in the disaster spawned by Mount Pinatubo’s 1991 eruptions.

Their leaders agree to the tag, one that is coming on the 20th anniversary of the blasts, not for themselves but for members who risked their lives when dangers from lahar and floods came as real as breathing.

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“At first we were just testing our gadgets in pulling cars out of lahar. Very soon, we were helping people because they were becoming hopeless,” said Roberto Manalang of the Angeles City Four Wheelers (ACFW). “We did not get paid for plucking people and cars out to safety. Not even gas money.”

Manalang said the involvement of off-roaders in disaster response was due to the late Fr. Nestor Tayag, parish priest of Bacolor, Pampanga.

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“He radioed us to come and rescue people and [salvage] cars. We came to answer his requests,” Manalang said.

But there were close calls, he said.

In 1992, a team of ACFW members rushed to Barangay San Anton in Bacolor when a lahar watch point issued a warning that 7 to 10 feet of lahar was flowing from the volcano’s slopes.

“We had to find a route from Sta. Barbara to reach San Anton. On the way, we honked [our vehicles’ horns] wildly to warn of evacuation,” Manalang said.

When floodwater swamped Bacolor a few hours before high walls of lahar buried the town on Oct. 1, 1995, Tayag tapped the ACFW members to help. That was how some of the town’s church records survived.

The small groups of rescuers include pioneers, such as Rey Liwanag and Eddie Dungca, said Marni Castro who, at 62, is “Lolo” (grandfather) to 40 or so younger off-roaders belonging to the ACFW and Pampanga Off-Roaders Club.

“For many of us, the four-wheel drives were necessities for reaching farms and sugarcane fields before Pinatubo exploded. During the disaster, we modified our 4 by 4s so we can rescue people,” Castro said.

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“The situation was not always viable for cars so we had to bring in the machines that can brave water and lahar,” he said.

He also used his off-road vehicles to monitor the safety of the FVR Megadike, a structure built to trap lahar.

Minalin Mayor Arturo Naguit converted his Toyota Land Cruiser in 1995 when floods made it difficult to reach his fishpond. A year later, he used it to get town mates who were stranded by floods in the City of San Fernando.

When threats of lahar subsided, 20 of the off-roaders turned the rescue machines into racing monsters, using the fields of lahar, a landscape they have mastered, as their race track.

Enthusiasts have developed friendships, at times seeing them together in trails to Tanay in Rizal, Bamban in Tarlac, Arayat in Pampanga and the Pampanga and Tarlac sides of Mt. Pinatubo.

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TAGS: Disaster response, environment, lahar, Motoring, Mount Pinatubo, Offroad vehicles, Regions, volcanic eruption
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