Repeat Mayon evacuees prefer staying in ‘hut city’
STO. DOMINGO, Albay, Philippines — Residents who were evacuated from the danger zone around Mayon Volcano have again built a virtual “hut city” here to escape harm from a potentially hazardous eruption, preferring to wait out the situation this way rather than stay at the crowded evacuation centers set up in local schools.
Edgar Balidoy, head of the municipality’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO), recalled witnessing as a young boy how families would build small nipa huts or shanties on private lots in the villages of San Andres, Salvacion and Calayucay, soon after leaving their homes in the volcano’s danger zone.
There was a time when “pyroclastic materials reached the town. [The residents were] afraid that it would happen again, so they always build temporary huts every time Mayon becomes restive,” he said.
Amelia Bañares, 64, remembered the eruption in 1993 when she and her family saw the volcano spewing lava, huge rocks and pyroclastic materials from their home in Barangay Lidong, located within the critical radius of 6 kilometers, Mayon’s danger zone.
“We heard a loud sound and when we realized it was an eruption, we scampered in different directions, not noticing that we just left our food at the table,” the housewife said, adding that evacuation was not yet enforced at that time.
It would take two more years before evacuation became more organized, with the establishment of the Albay Public Safety Emergency and Management Office (Apsemo) as the technical arm of the Albay Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Incurring the cost
On June 12, as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) began to record lava from Mayon, Bañares’ family was transferred to a small hut under the trees in Salvacion. The hut was made of wooden poles, with tarpaulin sheets serving as its walls and roof.
Sto. Domingo started the construction of the huts on June 7—about five days before the first recorded lava flow—as 1,688 families, or 2,706 people, were moved out of the villages of Lidong, Fidel Surtida, Sta. Misericordia and San Fernando, all within the danger zone.
The huts were built by workers hired by the municipal government, but the evacuees incurred the cost.
Lorna Abayon of San Andres village said she spent more than P3,000 to build the hut where her family was transferred. It was made of bamboo poles, lumber, tarpaulin sheets and other materials.
In the four eruptions that Abayon, 45, and her family experienced, they also had to be evacuated four times from their village of Sta. Misericordia.
“But if the local government told us to stay at schools, it would be OK, because we don’t have to spend money, it’s hard to earn,” she said.
Annabel Dayson, 54, of Lidong said she was thankful that a neighbor gave her family free anahaw leaves and bamboo poles, while the municipal government provided three yards of tarpaulin which the Daysons used for their hut at a roadside in Calayucay village.
She said she still spent money on other construction materials as well as the commuting expense back and forth to their house in Lidong.
“It’s really exhausting because sometimes we still go to our house to get other belongings. But our situation here is better than staying at the schools,” said Dayson, who improvised a “sari-sari” store in her hut to earn some money. Living conditions
Emma Milarpes, 61, said she and her family chose to stay in the huts, rather than the crowded evacuation centers.
“We don’t want to join with other families in one room because I have five grandchildren with me. [During the eruption] in 2018, we also stayed in the huts because the activity at Mayon scared us,” she said.
Residents who were relocated to an evacuation center in Salvacion that year remembered finding the toilets in disrepair.
“We needed to take two tricycle rides and spend P70 to reach our homes [so we could] use our bathrooms,” Bañares said.
Living conditions at evacuation sites have somewhat improved nowadays. But another resident in Lidong, Salome Ayala, said her family of three could not all be relocated since she and her son took turns taking care of her paralyzed husband.
The 68-year-old agreed to be evacuated, but would still return home every now and then to bring food packs to her husband and son.
Ciriaco Balino, assistant camp manager of the evacuation site in Salvacion, said on Saturday the toilets are working now.
“We already installed faucets and the water supply is sufficient here,” he said. Part of life
Despite the conditions in the temporary shelters, evacuation has become a part of life for Albay folk.
For as long as she could recall, Noreta Baredo, 41, said she and her family have been fleeing their home in Lidong each time Mayon erupts.
“I think we evacuated more than 10 times already,” Baredo said.
Every year, the villagers are also moved out of the volcano’s slopes during typhoons and heavy rain that trigger lahar, landslides, and flash floods.
Since Apsemo was created to establish a more organized system for evacuation, the office has developed a plan that identifies the roles of various provincial agencies in disaster response.
“From then on, we achieved the zero-casualty goal [during typhoons and volcanic eruptions] because we already enhanced the warning system, the communication, and coordination with the communities,” Eugene Escobar, the officer in charge of Apsemo, said in a phone interview on Friday.
Apsemo has forged partnerships with various international groups which later helped the province build permanent evacuation centers.
The local government units (LGUs) also allocated funds for building those sites.
Yet public schools until now serve that emergency purpose, admitted Escobar.
Hugo Buen, chief of Tabaco City’s DRRMO, said the city has eight evacuation centers in the villages of San Miguel, Buhian, Pawa, and San Antonio.
These facilities are designed like schools with open courts. Buen said evacuees from the volcano’s danger zone have been moved to Pawa and San Antonio.
Families at Pawa’s evacuation center enjoy relative privacy in its 72 cubicles with plywood and curtains as dividers. But there are also at least three families there sharing one such cubicle, which measures 3 meters by 2.7 meters.
In the two-story San Antonio building, families also share 14 rooms which are further partitioned into cubicles. Buen noted that there are 32 toilets and shower rooms there, including “child-friendly” and “conjugal” rooms.
“Their stay is more convenient because we have sufficient comfort rooms in LGU-owned evacuation centers,” he said.