Right now the Philippines is recovering from their latest disaster, typhoon Durian.

Most were killed not by winds or floods, but by lahar, mudslides caused when heavy rains mix with loose volcanic ash.

Estimates of those killed ranges from 800 to 1000, and may never be accurately known since many of those killed lived in small villages on the slopes of the Mayon Volcano.

Search teams from the Philippine military with dogs from Manila and a rescue team from Spain, have already arrived to help the local Red Cross and local rescuers search for survivors.

Ironically, last September the government ordered 30,000 people evacuated from this area because the Mayon volcano was having a minor eruption. Many returned to their villages after the eruption decreased, only to face another frightening danger of volcanoes: Lahar.

It was lahar that killed many following the 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo, destroying many villages. The lahar devastated parts of Pampanga, even miles downstream from the volcano, and the danger remained active for several years even though the government built dykes to divert the flow to stop further damage. At that time, several hundred thousand refugees were evacuated, and many were resettled permanantly to safer areas in Pampanga.

There is now a discussion if similar dykes need to be built to prevent lahar damage to villages in the region of the Mayon volcano. Alas, the volcano continues to spew ashes and rocks, and there is always the danger of another eruption, so a permanent evacuation of local towns and villages may the the answer. The problem is that many farmers might prefer the danger of their own homes to resettlement away from relatives.

Indeed, although most of the news now is about the recovery of the dead, the real priority is caring for the survivors. Many recovery centers are short of supplies, and government agencies, private funding and churches are rushing to help. Many survivors who lost their homes are leaving to stay with relatives, and will need help to rebuild their lives.

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Nancy Reyes lives in the rural Philippines with her husband and extended family. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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