Mount Pinatubo

Circling the crater of Mount Pinatubo in a Subic Seaplane

In June 1991, after more than four centuries of slumber, Pinatubo Volcano in the Philippines erupted so violently that more than 5 billion cubic meters of ash and pyroclastic debris were ejected from its fiery bowels producing eruption columns 18 kilometers wide at the base and heights reaching up to 30 kilometers above the volcano’s vent.

In its wake 847 people lay dead, 184 injured, 23 missing, and more than 1 millon people displaced. Hundreds of millions of dollars in private properties and infrastructure lay in ruins which would require tens of billions of pesos and several years to rebuild. For months, the ejected volcanic materials remained suspended in the atmosphere where the winds dispersed them to envelope the earth, reaching as far as Russia and North America. This phenomenon caused the world’s temperature to fall by an average of 1 degree Celsius. Clearly, Pinatubo’s eruption signals the world’s most violent and destructive volcanic event of the 20th century.

The Revered Mountain

To the Aetas, the country’s semi-nomadic Negrito tribes, Pinatubo was no ordinary mountain. The 1,745 meter peak straddling the provinces of Pampanga, Zambales, and Tarlac in the central part of Luzon Island in the Philippines is home to this ethnic people. Considered an inheritance from their ancestors, Pinatubo is the place where the Aetas believe they can freely commune with departed spirits of their forefathers whom they believe inhabit the animals, trees and mounds of earth that abound there. Traditionally animists, the Aetas have considered Pinatubo as sanctuary as they struggle to survive through game hunting and crop-gathering while holding fast to their pagan practice of animal and tree worship. More than a home and a sanctuary of worship, however, Pinatubo is the Aetas’ ‘Holy of Holies’, the inner sanctum where their supreme God, the Apo na Mallari, dwells.

The Fearsome Volcano

Pinatubo Volcano, one of the 22 active volcanoes dotting the Philippines, is part of the chain of volcanoes which borders the western side of Luzon and lies in the central portion of the Zambales Range (15 degrees 08.20’N and 120 degrees 21.35’E), a NNW-trending mountain belt that extends 220 kms. from Lingayen Gulf in the north and Bataan in the South. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOLCS) says that as early as 7 million years ago, the eruptive activity of the Zambales range had already begun. This lasted for millions of years, subsiding only 450 years ago. Radiometric dating on Pinatubo Volcano indicates that it has been active for over 1.1 million years while older eruptions yielded as much as 6.7 cubic kilometers of materials deposited on its western flanks.

Pinatubo unleashed three major destructive agents, namely: ashfall, pyroclastic flow and lahar that caused destruction to Central Luzon’s infrastructure and rendered its vast agricultural lands into virtual wastelands. Hardest hit were the provinces of Zambales, Pampanga, and Tarlac where more than 86,000 hectares of agricultural lands and fishponds were affected by ashfalls and lahars.

Irrigation systems, water service facilities, power transmission and lateral lines, roads bridges and other infrastructures were damaged mainly by lahars while houses and public buildings collapsed from the weight of accumulated ash deposits. Commercial and industrial operations were suspended while more than 650,000 workers were forced out of work because of the destruction of their farms, shops, factories and work places. The Americans were forced to evacuate Clark Air Base after volcanic dust, ashfall and lahar rendered its runways useless and endangered the operations of its planes. In Metro Manila, volcanic dust also blanketed the metropolis forcing authorities to suspend classes for a few days. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport was also closed for four days and public buildings were converted into evacuation centers to accomodate the increasing number of refugees from the devastated areas.

By December 1991, 61 municipalities and two cities had been declared as calamity areas.

But more than the destruction of buildings and infrastructure, Pinatubo’s eruption affected more than 249,000 families or about 1.18 million people, including 847 deaths, 184 injuries and 23 missing.

Viewing Pinatubo from the comfort and safety of a Subic Seaplane allows you to see from the best position the result of nature’s fury. We welcome your further enquiry.

Text courtesy of ABS-CBN


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