Filipinos in Anchorage track a volcano erupting an ocean away

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: January 25, 2018
  • Published January 24, 2018

In the bakery section of the Stop N' Shop Asian Market, owner Betalyn Delacruz scrolled through Facebook on her phone Wednesday afternoon, looking at shots of an active volcano more than 5,000 miles away in the Philippines.

Betalyn Delacruz, owner of the Stop N’ Shop Asian Market, checks Facebook for updates from her relatives who live near Mount Mayon, a volcano that is threatening communities in the Philippines, Wednesday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

She and her mom, Marietta Morota, remember what it was like in 1984 when Mount Mayon erupted and they had to evacuate their home. Mayon has been going off again sporadically since Jan. 13, shooting out lava and sending ash raining down. Delacruz and Morota's relatives in the Albay province and just a few miles from Mayon had to go to an evacuation center last week, stirring memories and concern.

"It's very hard being in an evacuation center," said Morota, who works as a cashier at the store. Years ago, she said, "a lot of people got sick."

Alaska has close ties to the Philippines, with more than half of Asian Alaskans tracking their background there, compared to less than 20 percent in the U.S. as a whole, according to the state labor department. Mount Mayon's eruption had displaced more than 75,000 residents by Thursday, according to Reuters. In Anchorage, many Filipinos are monitoring the situation however they can.

Betalyn Delacruz, owner of the Stop N’ Shop Asian Market, and her mom, Marietta Morota, speak about the impact of volcano Mayon’s eruption on their family that live near the mountain in the Philippines, on Wednesday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

On Facebook, Delacruz frequently checks in with family. At one point on Wednesday, a cousin Facetimed her a view of Mayon.

"We're kind of worried about their situation because it's very close to the volcano," she said, "but seeing them, you know … we can see them on Facebook, you know, it eases our worries."

Nearby in the Stop N' Shop, among the shelves of canned almond jelly, lychee in syrup and prawn crackers, customer Beni Acton held up her phone to show a Facebook photo of Mayon one recent night, alit with red-orange lava trailing down the sides.

Beni Acton looks through photos of Mount Mayon on her Facebook feed on Wednesday. (Annie Zak / ADN)

She's from Ligao, also in the Albay province where Mayon is located and not far from the volcano itself. She talks to her friends and family who still live there every day on Facebook, Skype or just on the phone.

"Right now, my family is experiencing a lot of ash falls. It's a lot," she said. "Pretty much cleaning all the time because it's not good for the kids. … Zero visibility."

Morota said she's most concerned about her evacuated family members back in the Philippines having access to food and clean water since they're so far from the city.

"It's hard. No food for the first day, no water," she said, recalling that time in 1984.

Delacruz and Morota stayed at the same high school evacuation center nearly 35 years ago as where their relatives are taking shelter now. Back then, Morota said, they stayed in the center for seven months. She recalled each room filled with several families and sleeping on the floor.

Maggie Balean, co-owner of the Indigo Tea Lounge in Anchorage, was also near Mayon during its 1984 eruption. She grew up in Guam but also lived in the Philippines for a few years. Her father is Filipino and she has a niece and nephew in Santo Domingo close to the volcano. They'll typically send her a daily Facebook update of what the eruption looks like.

One recent night, she said, they told her it was tough to fall asleep because they were worried about lava coming.

"Of course you worry about it, you know, but there's nothing we can do except wait and see," Balean said.

A view of the Mayon Volcano after a new eruption in Camalig, Albay province, south of Manila, Philippines, on Wednesday. (Romeo Ranoco/ Reuters)

Some in Anchorage say the natural disasters of the Philippines are so common they've simply become a fact of life.

"It's a natural thing to us," said Teresita Corral, who is also from the Albay province but now lives in Anchorage, where she owns an assisted living home. She said she isn't very worried about Mayon.

"I know the people now are educated about the eruption of the volcano. It's not the type of volcano that you don't know it's going to erupt," she said.

Talking to friends and family every day, she's heard communities are running out of masks to help people deal with the ash in the air, and as a result some kids are getting sick.

"We are used to having all these calamities, for example typhoons, floods and so on. It's just, like, a normal thing," said Cora Navio, in Anchorage. "We're kind of immune. Which is bad but it's a fact of life. We are just so resilient."