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Filipino expats in UAE worried about loved ones as volcano erupts

Keith Pereņa/Dubai
Filed on January 14, 2020 | Last updated on January 14, 2020 at 05.16 am
filipino expats, worried, loved ones, volcano, uae, taal volcano


Many of the kabayans that Khaleej Times spoke to have families and homes located in areas most affected by the ashfall.

Filipinos in the UAE are worried about the wellbeing of their families and loved ones back home after the Taal volcano erupted with a massive plume of ash and steam.

Many of the kabayans that Khaleej Times spoke to have families and homes located in areas most affected by the ashfall that followed Sunday's violent eruption.

To make matters worse, they can't immediately travel back home as Manila's international airport has been shut down and several flights stand cancelled.

Located less than 20km away from the volcano is the town of Talisay. Dubai-based expat Darlene Ynion, whose entire family lives in the town, described the moment her family realised what was happening.

"My entire family was having a birthday celebration when they learned about the eruption on television. They ignored the initial alert because our town was used to constant warnings. Later that day, the local government gave the evacuation order as ash poured down from the sky. My family had difficulty leaving because the sea of cars caused a gridlock. My family was successfully evacuated by 3pm. I am in constant contact with them," the 28-year-old said.

A common concern among Filipinos in the UAE are the health risks that inhaling ash may pose. Lea Realon, a Dubai-based communications professional, said: "My family lives 35km away from the volcano but our town has not given any evacuation order. What worries me the most is the ingestion of sulphur as it poses a grave health risk."

Mervin David, 49, shared the same sentiments. Sunday's eruption reminded David of the trauma of having experienced the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. "When I was young, our family used to live just 24km away from Pinatubo. Taal's eruption reminded me of that harrowing experience. Inhaling sulphur is extremely dangerous; it smells bad and has the potential to cause major skin and lung infections."

Having lived through an eruption before, David said that he immediately urged his family to shut all their windows and to wear face masks.

Roads around the Philippines' southern region have been heavily affected by ash fall and evacuation efforts. Darlene Ynion said that in Talisay, her family accidentally left a cousin behind. "My family advised her against following them to the evacuation centre because of the heavy traffic. They reunited with her on Monday morning and my relatives saw our town completely devastated - the sky was grey, roofs were covered in ash, and burnt trees fell by the wayside."

Lea Realon has the same concerns. "Roads may be blocked and that may lead to difficulty in getting aid and other essential resources."

Despite the trying times, Filipinos are actively helping their fellowmen out through acts both big and small.

Fahed Alblooshi, an Abu Dhabi-based Filipino-Emirati vlogger told Khaleej Times, "I knew about the eruption immediately and used my social media channels as a hub for Filipinos both in UAE and back home to share their safety tips and impart any advice." Fahed said that this move was an eye-opener as the Filipino community revealed some important info. "Did you know that you can't just use a typical facemask? There's a prescribed kind of mask to avoid inhaling any sulphur," the vlogger said.

Apart from using social media, him and his family back in the Philippines are actively helping their community as well their own family members. "My mom is in contact with all our relatives back home and right now, me and my team at the Emaratino vlog are finding out ways in order to provide aid and support to the heavily affected areas. This support comes directly from me and my family," Fahed concluded.

At the time of writing this report, conditions in the region surrounding the volcano have calmed down. But many UAE expats still fear that a second, more powerful eruption may come.

Flights cancelled

Several flights to and from the UAE to Manila have been cancelled. "Due to the closure of Manila and Clark airports in the Philippines following the eruption of Taal volcano, Emirates flights to and from Manila and Clark on January 13 have been cancelled," Emirates said on its website. "Customers connecting onto the flights to Manila, Clark and Cebu in Dubai will not be accepted to travel at origin until further notice."

The heavy ashfall also resulted in the cancellation of Etihad Airways flights EY424 and EY428 from Abu Dhabi to Manila, and the return flights EY423 and EY421 on January 13.

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