My case study was the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991 in Luzon, Philippines. I originally chose this event because I thought volcanoes were a really interesting type of hazard; I came across this disaster while looking for incidents of volcanic eruptions. Once I started looking up facts about this event, I became interested in it for more specific reasons. For instance, I thought it was really interesting how this volcanic eruption had a global effect. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo generated such a large cloud of ash and chemicals that the global temperature decreased by 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit. While this effect wasn’t particularly hazardous, I think it’s amazing that one independent event could have an impact on the entire world. I also found the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo to be interesting to look at in terms of preparation and mitigation. The population of Luzon was actually really well prepared for the eruption; while there was still a high number of fatalities, many lives were saved by the swift measures taken by scientists in the area.
Mt. Pinatubo is located in the Zambales region of Luzon. Luzon is the largest island to make up the Philippines.
For a long time, Mt. Pinatubo was not well monitored. The volcano had been dormant for 500 years, and nobody expected it to erupt. However, ten weeks before the volcano erupted, scientists noticed small steam explosion issuing from the volcano. They quickly realized that Mt. Pinatubo was not only active, it was likely to erupt soon. Volcanologists leapt into action, working with the soldiers stationed at the nearby Clark Air Base to install tilt meters and other monitoring devices near the volcano, develop maps of where the greatest damage was likely to occur, create evacuation routes, and implement warning systems so that people would know when to evacuate.
However, unforeseen circumstances greatly increased the deadliness of this hazard. At the same time that Mt. Pinatubo erupted, Typhoon Yunya struck the Philippines. The combination of ash from the eruption and rain from the typhoon created a new set of hazards that the population was not prepared for. Lahars swept through, destroying homes, property, and agricultural lands. Most of the fatalities came from the weight of wet ash collapsing roofs and killing the occupants. Many of these deaths occurred because the homeowners were considered out of the way of the eruption and were not told to evacuate. Researches have noted that the majority of the fatalities in this event was due not to the volcano erupting, but due to lahars and wet ash.
That being said, the mitigation efforts that were successful saved thousands of lives. The steps taken to prepare for this eruption was considered by the rest of the world to be exemplary; the speed with which these scientists were able to figure out and implement mitigation efforts was incredible. These scientists had to deal with a multitude of obstacles. Until ten weeks before the eruption, there was no existing monitoring devices for Pinatubo, no evacuation maps, and no set system to warn the public to evacuate. Not only that, but the scientists had to contend with people who did not want to evacuate unless it was absolutely necessary. The military personnel at Clark Air Base in particular was reluctant to leave; they didn’t want to launch a full scale evacuation if it turned out that the volcano wasn’t actually about to erupt. This event, coupled with the typhoon, still caused a tragic loss of life; an estimated 840 people were killed. However, it is incredible to see how scientists were able to save so many lives with so little notice of an impending threat.
Unfortunately, while recovery efforts began soon after the event, they have not been entirely successful. A large portion of the population had jobs in agriculture; after the eruption, some land was so damaged by the ash falls that it is now unusable as agricultural land. In addition, the ash build up combines with heavy rain from the rainy season to produce yearly lahars. This meant that many people were unable to return to their homes even after reconstruction. According to one journal I read, close to 55,000 people were still living in evacuation centers two years after the eruption.
Some additional mitigation efforts have been put into place; the volcano is now monitored more closely than it was before. In addition, the population is more aware of the dangers of the volcano and of lahars. In areas where lahars were common, some people put their house on stilts to minimize damage; however, most still leave as a precaution during the rainy season.
Nowadays, the area around Mt. Pinatubo is used less as a place to live and more as a tourist attraction.
This seems like an intelligent response to the dangers of Mt. Pinatubo. While the volcano is currently quiet, it is still an active volcano that could have another eruption in the near future. Designating the area around this volcano as a tourist spot will mean that evacuation will be much easier in the future and damage that is done to the land or to structures will be less devastating. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo was a devastating event that was costly in both lives and infrastructure; this eruption had a lasting effect on the area around it. However, the commendable mitigation efforts of 1991 are incredible to read about, and it is encouraging to see that the population in this area have adapted the land around Mt. Pinatubo to cope with the dangers of the volcano.
Here is a video that shows some of the evacuation efforts as well as the impact of the ash: