Worried Filipinos in Manitoba trying to help community members displaced by Taal volcano

By | January 16, 2020

As residents living in the shadow of an active Philippine volcano are being forced to flee their homes, their Filipino family and friends halfway around the world are keeping close watch.

Since the Taal volcano started spewing lava, steam and ash into the sky south of the Philippine capital of Manila on the weekend, at least 38,000 people in the area have been evacuated to more than 200 evacuation centres, as officials warn of a bigger, more dangerous eruption.

Darren Sangalang, who lives in Winnipeg, was visiting relatives when the nearby volcano erupted Sunday afternoon.

“It was cool at first seeing the volcano erupt, and then when it started getting serious, I started getting panicky,” Sangalang said.

“When the ashes started to fall, I thought it was serious,” he said. “But when it started raining mud and ash, I thought I should leave.”

Darren Sangalang and his California cousin Sherwynn Umali pose at the Taal volcano crater on Nov. 26, 2018. (Submitted by Darren Sangalang)

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has set the volcano alert level to four, meaning a hazardous eruption is possible in days. Level five indicates a hazardous eruption is underway.

The region can expect to experience intense unrest, continuing seismic swarms including tremors and “low frequency earthquakes” and profuse steaming along vents and fissures, according to the government’s volcano monitoring report.

Government work has been suspended and schools shut down in a number of towns and cities due to the health risks from the ash. Hundreds of flights in and out of the country have been delayed or cancelled.

In an online statement, the United Nations expressed concern over warnings issued by Philippines’ authorities that volcanic eruptions on the country’s most populous island could last days, months or even years.

Filipinos in Manitoba fear for affected community

Winnipeg resident Donna Cantiveros ​​​​​​said she felt more at ease when she finally reached Sangalang, her cousin, through Facetime, after seeing him post unnerving photos and videos of the eruption on his Facebook page.

“I’m happy to know that he’s safe. Relieved that he’s safe, and that he was able to evacuate, and he’s with relatives now, [who are] taking care of him,” she said.

Donna Cantiveros is Facetiming with a distant cousin from Winnipeg who is visiting the Philippines. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Cantiveros has an uncle, aunt and three cousins who were forced to flee their homes on Sunday. Since then, they have been sending pictures of them all lining up for emergency assistance.

“It just breaks my heart seeing my relatives line up for relief,” she said. “This is something I never imagined they will have to do one day.”

Donna Cantiveros says her uncle’s nursery in Cabuyao, Laguna, could be at risk as the plants are covered in a layer of ash from the nearby Taal volcano. (Submitted by Donna Cantiveros)

Her uncle runs a plant nursery in the affected region, growing and selling fruit-bearing trees. Cantiveros worries he could lose his livelihood because all the plants have been covered by ashes.

Supporting volcano victims from afar

Now Manitoba’s large Filipino community is fundraising to support victims of the volcano.

With the help of Cantiveros, the Talisay Association of Manitoba has organized a fundraiser for family, friends and community members in the Philippines who have been displaced by the disaster.

Evacuees pick out clothes from a pile of donated garments for residents affected by the Taal volcano eruption in an evacuation centre in Santo Tomas, Batangas, Philippines, Jan. 15, 2020. (Eloisa Lopez/REUTERS)

Only cash donations are being accepted given the urgency and logistical challenges, according to a Facebook post by the non-profit organization.

Funds can be dropped off at the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba at 737 Keewatin St., Wednesday-Friday from noon to 5 p.m., and on the weekend between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Cantiveros said they will provide a daily report online about how much money is collected and where it’s going.