Coal ash, dust sweep into Iloilo village
ILOILO CITY — When Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) struck four years ago, Maribel Locson’s house was damaged, but this did not force her and her family to flee their community, the village of Nipa in Concepcion town, Iloilo province.
But on Sunday evening, she took her three children aged 8 months to 13 to the municipal evacuation center at the town proper after coal ash and dust were blown by strong winds to their house from a coal-fired power plant in the village.
They were among at least 20 families or 52 persons, including children, who left their houses around 8:45 p.m. and stayed overnight at the evacuation center.
“We had difficulty breathing and it was stinging to the eyes. The children were coughing and it was very itchy when the ash covered our skin,” she told the Inquirer.
She said visibility was almost zero because of ash that covered almost everything.
Locson’s house was across a road separating it from the coal yard of the 135-megawatt coal-fired power plant operated by the Palm Concepcion Power Corp. (PCPC).
Emergency responders from the municipal government evacuated the residents using an ambulance and a fire truck. They were also given medical aid and food by PCPC personnel at the evacuation center, according to Locson.
The residents returned to their homes on Monday afternoon.
In a statement, PCPC denied reports that an explosion and poisoning incident occurred at its 30-hectare site in Nipa in Concepcion, some 109 kilometers northeast of Iloilo City.
Ma. Cristina Cabalhin, PCPC vice president for corporate affairs, said in the statement that there was a “sudden outflow of the fly ash in one of the ash chambers while it was being cleaned.”
She said the outflow caused an “ash clouding.”
Cabalhin clarified that the plant had been closed since Oct. 21 and had been undergoing preventive maintenance set to last for a month.
She said the coal ash leak had stopped and maintenance activities were ongoing.
Concepcion Mayor Millard Villanueva said the municipal government was assisting the residents.
He said he would also meet with PCPC officials to discuss the incident and ensure that safety measures were in place to prevent it from happening again.
Locson said residents had wanted to leave the area because of health concerns especially for her young children due to their proximity to the plant site.
“The wind also blows the dust and ash when they are transporting coal from the barges,” she said.
But she said residents had not finalized negotiations for compensation.
“We want to them to buy our land and house so we will have money to relocate and put up a new house,” Locson, 40, said.
She has lived in the village since birth and earns from operating an eatery in the village with the help of her husband.
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