By KAYCEE REYES
Nature can certainly surprise us. With the recent eruption of Taal Volcano last Jan. 12, there were around 96,000 individuals or 22,000 families from Batangas, Laguna, and Cavite that have been affected by the calamity, according to the most recent report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (January 18, 12NN).
Sudden natural calamities like this affect not only people’s homes, surroundings, and their livelihood, but their health is at risk as well. Volcanic eruptions may spew pyroclastic flow (hot ash, lava, and gas), cause earthquakes, and spread volcanic ash. Taal Volcano’s ashfall reached the rest of CALABARZON, Metro Manila, and even provinces up north, such as Pampanga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Bataan, and parts of Pangasinan and Zambales, according to the Metro Manila Development Authority.
However, volcanic ash isn’t just ash. It’s a hazardous mix of glass, minerals, and fragments of rocks that may cause health problems. So what can we do to protect ourselves and our health? Volcanic ash mainly affects the lungs, eye, and skin.
Respiratory symptoms include nose and throat irritation, dry cough, and breathing problems. The risk is higher among children, the elderly, and those with conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. Eye irritations, tearing, itchiness, and dryness are common as well. Skin allergies and other skin irritations may also occur. Ashfall may also increase the risk of accidents, as it can cause slippery roads and affect road visibility for drivers.
In the event of ashfall, one should:
1. Stay at home. Close all windows, doors, and refrain from using air conditioners to keep the ash from coming in. If possible, refrain from going out. If you have pets at home, keep them indoors as well.
2. Avoid travel. Cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and the like are advised not to be used during this time. Ashfall may cause road accidents especially if it falls continuously, mixed with rain, or conditions are windy.
3. Use an N-95 mask. This type of mask remains the most effective in keeping hazardous chemicals from being inhaled. If this is not available, surgical face masks with a wet handkerchief are also an alternative, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
Other protective ways are pieces of cloth or shirts, as long as it covers the nose area properly. Diapers and bras are also recommended by DOH on emergency cases. However, these alternatives may not protect as well as the N-95 mask.
4. Wash your hands. This needs to be stressed, especially during times of calamity and there is a higher risk of infection and/or disease.
5. Cover up. Ashfall may cause various skin irritations to different individuals. It is best to wear long-sleeved blouses/polos/jackets and and long trousers/pants/jeans with protective footwear as well. You may also use goggles to avoid eye irritation and gloves to cover your hands.
6. Check your food. Aside from making sure that you have an ample supply, cover food and water at all times to avoid ash from mixing. Wash fruits and vegetables carefully before cooking or consuming them, and double-check your canned goods on their expiration dates.
7. Be alert. Know all emergency numbers in your area, regularly check the news for updates, and always check your family members for symptoms and sickness.
NDRRMC also recommends that every emergency bag should contain at least the following:
– A first aid kit that includes basic medication for wounds, fever, diarrhea, etc.
– Blanket, coat, extra clothes, toiletries, and boots
– Drinking water and food that is good for three days
– Flashlight, batteries, candles, and matches
– Portable radio with batteries
– Other items such as newspapers, rope, and an extra bag
As of this writing, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has still maintained an Alert Level 4 on Taal (that means a hazardous eruption could happen anytime). This is a lesson and a warning to all of us, wherever we may be, to always be informed, prepared, and vigilant even before disaster strikes. As they say, preparation is a lifestyle, not just an activity. Because who knows when the next calamity strikes, right?