A PRIEST who just three months ago stood on the top of a volcano that is now flowing lava into the towns south of the Philippines capital has shared his anxiety about the hazardous explosion.
Confraternity of Christ the Priest Father Thomas Casanova, who is based in the diocese of Wagga Wagga, walked up the Taal volcano in October last year while visiting three Vietnamese seminarians studying in Manila to be priests for the congregation.
Fr Casanova said he and the three seminarians walked with a guide for about 30 minutes to the top of the Taal volcano’s crater.
The volcano is one of the country’s most active and sits in the middle of a volcanic fresh water lake.
Fish farmers skirt across the lake providing a major economy in the town of around 2000 people.
“We were able to look out over the largest volcanic lake in the world, and also see gas coming out of some fissures, and inside the crater another body of water, greenish and bubbling in places,” Fr Casanova told The Catholic Leader.
Months later on Sunday January 12, Fr Casanova received messages from locals he met in the neighbouring villages of Tagaytay, Lipa, home to the local seminary, Mabini and Calaca.
“They knew that one day Taal would erupt, and they messaged me asking for prayers,” Fr Casanova said.
“Not only could they see the huge column of ash from their homes up to 40km away, but they were soon expressing fear due to the ‘lindol’ (earthquakes) and the ash which has turned a huge area of lush greens to greyscale.
“I shared their anxiety.
“Especially I was concerned for the kind people I met on Taal island. I have since heard from a priest of the Lipa diocese that they all escaped in time.”
Thousands of people were evacuated from nearby as officials warned the volcano could reach a hazardous Level 5 incident within hours or days.
“Everyone is now watching to see if a worse eruption will follow, one with lava and rocks, and more lahar (ash),” Fr Casanova said.
“So we are praying.”
The seminary in Tagaytay, run by the Society of the Divine Word, were among the safe havens who opened their doors to receive evacuees requiring shelter.
“If you need a place to stay in Tagaytay because of Taal eruption, the SVD seminary in Tagaytay City is open for shelter and evacuation,” Fr Randolf Cariño Flores told Philippines-based Catholic station Radio Veritas.
Fr Casanova said the spreading ash would be disastrous for the local agricultural industry.
“People on Taal Island and the local fishermen may be severely affected,” he said.
“Sometimes the ash can block drains in the cities when it sets like concrete.”
Fr Casanova said the locals were rallying to help evacuees “as is happening in Australia”.
“There are some shops offering free meals to them, other friends have prepared relief packages already,” he said.
“One man is standing at the highway with his high pressure hose to clean the windscreens of passing cars and jeepneys.”