ANGELES CITY, PHILIPPINES
THE combination of a week of continued eruptions, mud flows, and lack of contingency plans threaten to increase the loss of life caused by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, according to government and relief workers. Although there has been a rapid response from volunteer agencies and the Filipino people have generously contributed funds, the efforts are not nearly enough to meet the need. Nor are the near-empty government coffers likely to yield enough money. A devastating earthquake and a typhoon practically wiped out government emergency-relief funds last year.
"We've only got two days food here," said Barbara Day, a district disaster officer supervising an evacuation center at the Mabalat Central School near Angeles City, about eight miles from the volcano.
In contrast to the meticulously organized operation that moved 15,000 American servicemen and their families from the United States' Clark Air Force Base over the past week, Philippine government efforts have been late and limited.
Only on Sunday, about 300 buses headed down ash-slicked roads to the danger zone to begin the evacuation of thousands of Filipinos to makeshift evacuation centers. Still, known casualties stand at about 100 since the volcano began erupting June 9, Philippine authorities say.
But relief workers acknowledge they have not been able to inspect many areas within the "danger zone" and predict that final figures on property and human damage will be considerably higher.
RAYMUNDO Punongbayan, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said yesterday the volcano was "simmering down."
He said he might recommend reducing the 25-mile danger zone around the volcano, but would wait until an aerial inspection.
All last week, night came early for the people living in the shadow of Mt. Pinatubo. Even at midday, the ash-laden skies above the volcano were black. The explosions sent massive, mushroom-shaped clouds soaring into the sky and spewed ash for several miles.
At the Mabalat Central School, Ms. Day rustled through a pile of papers on her desk, scratching her head.
"We've got 2,600 people here at the moment," she said. "I don't know how many we can expect - maybe 8,000."
Worse still, most of the center's inhabitants seem to have stomach disorders, and there is a serious lack of sanitation facilities.
DAY is supervising a team of about 100 volunteers who have transformed the school into a home for the mountain residents, many of whom walked miles along with their water buffaloes. This was much to the annoyance of the school's headmaster, who is seeing his grass playing field turned into a grazing pasture.
Among the worst affected by the volcano's fury are some of the earliest known inhabitants of the Philippines, the Aetas, who live on the mountain's slopes.
For many older members of the Aeta tribe, their first contact with the rest of the country and its inhabitants has only occurred in recent days - as a result of being evacuated from the mountain.
Maria Lacsamana, an elderly Aeta, said she was "having fun" after being moved to the Pampang elementary school near Angeles City. She was intrigued by the electric lights that she said provided far better illumination than nighttime fires. She was also fascinated at meeting a white person - easily twice her size - for the first time.
Like other Aetas interviewed in the evacuation center, however, she wanted to go back to the mountain and to her crops, of which she spoke almost reverentially.
Tasio Candile, a 28-year-old Aeta who served as a barangay captain or district leader, was more skeptical about the prospects of returning home."Everything we've planted has been destroyed," he said. "There's no point in going back. The government will have to put us somewhere."
Some Aetas blame the Philippine National Oil Company's drilling activities for the eruptions. They say seismographic survey work carried out in advance of a possible geothermal project disturbed the mountain.
"Chemicals were poured into the mountain which turn stone into earth," Mr. Candile claimed.
The Aetas also have another explanation: The drilling upset the spirits that reside in the mountain.
While the Aetas brought down their buffaloes from the mountain, vehicles belonging to US military personnel were loaded with computers, television sets, and other belongings. A minor eruption on June 9 persuaded the US military to evacuate 14,000 residents of Clark Air Base, one of the biggest US bases overseas, which is situated 10 miles from the volcano.
The Americans who left Clark - and most of their belongings behind - were jammed into the small homes of families at the US's Subic Naval Base, which lies about 50 miles southwest.
The US military began sending families of military personnel back to the US yesterday. This involved moving families by ship to an airport located on the central island of Cebu, since several inches of sticky volcanic ash have yet to be cleared from air strips at Manila's international airport.
IRONICALLY, the focus on the bases comes at a time when the US is involved in tough negotiations with Manila to extend lease agreements on both Clark and Subic. Talks are stalled because the two sides cannot agree on how long the US should stay and how much it should pay.
Manila is offering a seven-year treaty for $825 million. Washington wants a 10-year agreement for less.
"Until the danger is gone, I don't think we will be doing any operations in Clark Air Base," US Ambassador Nicholas Platt told reporters in Manila.
"I think air operations in Clark will be down for the foreseeable future," Mr. Platt added.
Pentagon officials say they can work around the temporary loss of Clark.