The city of Sta. Rosa, Laguna is one of the most progressive cities in the south of Manila, thanks to its numerous advancements in real estate and manufacturing. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, CALABARZON or Region IV-A, where Sta. Rosa is located, is the second-largest contributor to the Philippine economy as of 2018, accounting for 17 percent of the country’s economy. In addition, CALABARZON accounts for 95 percent of the country’s automotive manufacturing industry.
Located at about 20 kilometers further south of Sta. Rosa, Laguna is the picturesque resort city of Tagaytay, located in the province Cavite. The city, which stands at an elevation of 2,096 feet above sea level, is known for its cool weather, tasty restaurants, unique hotels, and breathtaking views of Taal Volcano. Suffice to say, our city has become a getaway from those living in the National Capital Region (NCR). This is very true during the weekends, wherein many motorists from Metro Manila drive for about 2 hours to enjoy all of what the city of Sta. Rosa and Tagaytay have to offer. However, on January 12, 2020, at around 1 pm, the calm and peaceful ambiance that our place had to offer did a complete 180-degree turn.
During this exact time, I was at a popular hospital in the city of Manila in order to pick up my parents. Both of them were confined due to causes unrelated to each other. Our smiles grew as I quickly processed the requirements needed to get my parents discharged since we were really looking forward to finally get home as a whole family. While doing so, I often glanced on my phone to check on my social media accounts for both work and entertainment.
At around 2 pm, a post showing that Taal had a phreatic eruption at 1 pm caught my attention. I told my parents about this, but because it was a phreatic eruption, which happens when magma gets in contact with water, we thought that this shouldn’t be anything too serious. As a result, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) raised Taal’s status to Alert Level 2, indicating that the volcano is experiencing increased unrest.
A few moments later, at around 4 pm, all of our requirements and payments were completed, officially discharging us from the hospital. Later checks across my social media accounts showed that PHIVOLCS has upgraded Taal’s status to Alert Level 3, due to an ash column reaching 100 meters high. Since Sta. Rosa, Laguna is technically behind Tagaytay ridge, I was confident that an ash column that high shouldn’t still be able to wreak havoc in our area. Either way, we had no choice but to proceed in going back to Sta. Rosa. After all, this is where we live.
Due to my mother’s leg injury, she needed to occupy the entire second row of our Honda CR-V. Because we are a family of four, we had no choice but to bring two cars with us. My dad was still too weak to drive, so Janferds Balois, one of Go Flat Out’s Motorsports writers, drove our CR-V. Meanwhile, I drove my Mazda 6 Sports Wagon with my brother and me in it, along with quite a hefty amount of cargo.
We traveled as a convoy going back to Sta. Rosa, Laguna. By around 5 pm, we were finally at Skyway southbound. As we climbed up the entry ramp, a grim scenario greeted us. Everything in our direction was much darker than where we came from. Streaks of lightning coming from a cloud reaching much higher than the typical cruising altitude of commercial airliners confirms this is not just any other cloud. Taal’s ash column has reached astronomical heights.
By the time we were at MCX/Susanna Heights exit, the wind was already carrying a bit of ash against our direction. The environment seemed darker as every kilometer passed by. This definitely wasn’t a good sign. By the moment we were at Sta. Rosa exit, the ash became very thick. Even worse, the rains started pouring down, carrying all the ash that mixed with Taal’s 10- to 15-kilometer high ash cloud. I told my parents to avoid using the AC–even if it is in recirculation mode so it won’t bring in any ash from outside or damage the air compressor. Knowing that volcanic ash is completely different from the puffy stuff we’re used to, we also avoided using the wipers as much as possible.
Thankfully, by around 6 pm, we finally reached home. Our cars were not badly drenched by the ash fall, so our family friend and I immediately went to work to rid both vehicles from ash that could have ruined the paint. Thankfully, both of our cars were regularly washed with SONAX’s car wash soap, so by the moment we were pressure washing the vehicles, the ash came off easily. We then checked the filters and radiators of both vehicles for any clogging caused by the ashfall. Upon confirmation that both cars’ radiators and air filters remained relatively clean, we then proceeded with giving both cars a proper SONAX wash.
The night went by and the ashfall was getting thicker by the minute. Our city started to look more like the surface of the moon. The sky was pitch black, but lightning strikes illuminate an ominous dark gray cloud. By 7:30 pm, our fears towards Taal were confirmed as PHIVOLCS raised its status to Alert Level 4–the second-highest warning PHIVOLCS typically enforces to this small but terrible volcano.
As we slept through the eventful night, earthquakes occasionally jolted our sleep. This kept me worried about Taal’s fury as even by 3 am the following day, the ash column with its lightning strikes was still ever-present. PHIVOLCS then released a photo on social media that Taal was undergoing a lava fountaining event. It looked beautiful in photos but also very terrifying to think of.
By 6 am, sunlight broke through the curtains of my room. The sky was clear and blue like nothing happened, but on the ground, the ash was very thick. Luckily, both of our cars remained clean throughout the night. Other cars weren’t so lucky since they were either left out of the open or their garages do not have roofs.
I then drove out of our home since our family needed food and I needed to bring our family friend back to his home in Bacoor, Cavite, which suffered less severely compared to Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Outside our home, it was as if Sta. Rosa became a scene from the famous post-apocalyptic video game series Fallout–minus the mutated creatures of course.
Even though the ashfall has already stopped, we kept the AC off since the dry ash was now flying around which can still cause damage to the vehicle’s internals and, of course, our health. SLEX in both directions was almost empty, let alone our beloved city. Only three major supermarkets, a Mercury Drug, and a Starbucks was open in our area in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Thank God we were completely fine and unharmed during Taal’s most furious state yet.
Taal Volcano remains at Alert Level 4 as of January 15, 2019. As of this story’s writing, the volcano’s level of activity has somewhat decreased, though as we speak, volcanic earthquakes continue to rock the province of Batangas. While life in Manila, which is about 50 kilometers away from us here in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, is back to normal, the CALABARZON region is still recovering from the effects of Taal. Our lives may have been disrupted, more so in the Batangas area, but if there’s one thing that has been proven for every disaster, it would be that natural disasters are nothing compared to the Filipino’s resilience. We, the second-highest contributor to the Philippine economy, will once again rise up from the ashes, stronger and better than ever.