No cause to panic, but

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    WITHIN A week after the self-congratulatory celebrations over the salvation of Pampanga from the devastations of the Mount Pinatubo eruptions a quarter of a century ago, comes this damper: Pinatubo danger not over yet!

    “We don’t want to cause panic but the danger is not over yet,” declared Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) director Renato Solidum at the Capampangan in Media forum at Bale Balita in Clark last week.

    No, Pinatubo is not set to erupt anytime soon. Maybe, no sooner than another 600 years. The danger lies in unusual heavy rainfall that could arise…rather, pour like the proverbial cats and dogs with La Niña.

    The siyam-siyam or heavy rains like those wrought by Typhoon Ondoy hitting the Pinatubo area and the contiguous communities, Solidum said, will – rather than may – remobilize volcanic debris and trigger lahar flows and flooding in Pampanga.

    “Watch out for the behavior of lahar in the area called Delta 5 near the Porac-Angeles Road where threat could emanate at the Pasig-Potrero River,” he advised, raising the imperative of “flood-quarrying” or an “engineered-design” quarrying along the said river and other adjacent river channels in order to prevent heavy siltation that may compromise the structural integrity of the FVR Megadike system.

    Kapampangans generally believe it was the FVR Megadike that saved the province, particularly the capital of San Fernando from rampaging lahar flows that, prior to its completion in 1997, buried whole villages, notably, Cabalantian in Bacolor town on October 1, 1995.

    “The dikes have to be continuously maintained and the channels should be regularly dredged,” Solidum said.

    No cause to panic, the Phivolcs chief could not overstress more in the wake of this apparent downpour on the parade of celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the “triumph of the Kapampangan spirit of unity and resiliency” over the Pinatubo tragedy: “Ang point ko lang ay huwag tayong pakakampante. Logic lang, kinulong mo ang tubig sa isang megadike, therefore ang purpose niya (megadike) ay saluhin ang tubig at lahar. Ang main threat diyan ay yung nasa loob. Ngayon, sa lapad naman ng ilog at megadike ay hindi naman natin alam kung saan ang tumbok.”

    Points well taken, Sir. The Kapampangan learned lifelong, and life-saving, lessons out of the Pinatubo devastation the hard, no, make that the hardest, way: Not all who cry danger are doomsayers.

    Oh, how Kelvin Rodolfo was virtually denounced when he first broached the foreboding scenario of a Pampanga buried in lahar.

    Indeed, how Porac Mayor Roy David, dubbed the “lahar fighter,” was dismissed as the boy who cried wolf for his insistence that lahar, which by then already devastated his whole town, would ultimately swamp San Fernando and all areas downstream Pasig-Potrero.

    “E mu ke piyabe-yabe keng problema mu,” was how the mayors dismissed David’s alarums. Why, even the provincial government, at the instigation of certain business leaders, extracted from Phivolcs a declaration that the capital “is safe from lahar.” So as not to panic incoming investors and those transferring from Angeles City which bore the brunt of the initial eruptions.

    Only for these mayors and businessmen to panic themselves when, within two years, David proved prophetic with the first lahar flows reaching their outlying villages. The Cabalantian tragedy turning that panic into raw terror.

    Finding fearful articulation in the “Time to Panic” rallies and marches in San Fernando to supplicate the Ramos administration for the megadike.

    “To dike or to die.” So was the collective cry.

    The dike was built. The people did not die.

    Nothing lost in any translation of Solidum’s caution: The dike is to be maintained, the rivers it contains regularly desilted, constantly centerchanneled to veer away from the dike and prevent it from being eroded.

    Twenty-five years hence, vigilance still makes the core of our continuing Pinatubo experience.

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