x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Volcano is only the latest worrying news for Filipino expats

Looming eruption has them calling loved ones at home, again, after a year of floods, typhoons and mass murder

Maglyn Soriano has family members who are waiting to be evacuated after the volcano eruption in the Philippines.
Maglyn Soriano has family members who are waiting to be evacuated after the volcano eruption in the Philippines.

ABU DHABI // For Maglyn Soriano and her family back home, the rumblings of Mount Mayon were always a part of life. With the volcano spilling lava again, the 48-year-old Filipina called her home on Tuesday to check on her sister, Minda, and her family. They live in Guinobatan, about 8km from the volcano. They had not been evacuated, yet. But they are worried.

"There have been aftershocks," said Mrs Soriano, who works for a freight forwarding company in the capital. "But we now fear that magma is already in the volcano's mouth." Those living inside the 8km danger zone were still being evacuated yesterday, with more than 30,000 people moved to shelters in case of a larger eruption. One of those shelters was the school Mrs Soriano's niece attends. The school's Christmas party has been cancelled.

Mrs Soriano offered her home in Pio Duran, safely out of the volcano's reach, to her sister. The family was prepared to make the move, if ordered to leave. These are just the latest anxious moments for many of the 320,000 Filipino expatriates in the UAE. In September and October, two violent tropical storms slammed into the country only a week apart, causing landslides and the worst flooding in 40 years. Hundreds died, and about three million homes were damaged.

Three weeks ago, more than 50 people were killed in a politically inspired massacre in the southern province of Maguindanao. "It's disheartening that our compatriots have been through a lot during the past year," said Sherwin Cobar, 30, an architect in Abu Dhabi. "I didn't expect that they would be experiencing floods, typhoons and even a mass murder. It's too much in one year." Mr Cobar, who has been in the UAE for five years, said Filipino expatriates could not help but feel a sense of frustration.

"Of course we're worried about them but we can't be there to alleviate their suffering," he said. "The feeling is difficult to explain. All we could do is to extend financial help." From afar, the expats now are keeping an eye on the Mayon volcano. Christian Hayagan, 25, a nurse from Legazpi, about 18km from Mayon, called his aunt, Ada Miras, 48, after hearing about the eruption on Tuesday. "She said it was normal and from the tone of her voice, she was not alarmed," he said. "There's no need for them to evacuate yet, but I have friends from Guinobatan.

"They're on standby for any contingency measures and will move once they're instructed by the disaster management officials." Santiago Clutario Jr, 39, a pipe-fitter at an electro-mechanical company, said: "I still can't contact my cousin who is from Legazpi." Mr Clutario fears his parents and four siblings may have to leave their home in the town of Tiwi. "I hope they don't have to evacuate as Christmas nears," he said.

Racquel Eder, 33, an administrator in a construction company, comes from Ilocos Norte in the northern Philippines. She said many of her friends had felt a sense of helplessness during the storms. "They were waiting for a phone call from their family," she said. "But the phone lines were submerged in water." However, she said her compatriots back home had remained resilient despite the turmoil. "We've experienced worse disasters in the past," she said. "Donations poured in from Filipinos residing in different countries, including the UAE. Everyone was willing to help."