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Digging Out From Under Mount Pinatubo’s Debris

June 18, 1991

ANGELES CITY, Philippines (AP) _ Edwin Dungca managed to save 28 television sets from his electronics repair shop before tons of mud and sand from Mount Pinatubo cascaded down the road, burying everything in its path.

Returning to his shop on Tuesday, Dungca scooped at the brown grime piled a yard deep, which had buried cassette players, radios and other electronic equipment. ″What can I do?″ he asked hopelessly.

Others are far worse off. In this city of more than 300,000 people, adjacent to deserted Clark Air Base, some residents have been smashing storefronts with crowbars in search of food, and there was no electricity or tap water.

More than a week of eruptions from Mount Pinatubo, 50 miles northwest of Manila, have coated the surrounding area with ash and triggered cascades of mud and sand after a river carrying volcanic debris flooded. The Red Cross has reported at least 146 deaths.

In and around Angeles, military engineers have begun clearing the roads, but many vehicles remain stuck in sand. Roofs are covered with several inches of ash and sand.

Commerce is at a standstill. Some taxis have begun plying their routes, but most stores and restaurants remained closed. The doors of many businesses have actually been cemented shut by tons of fine-grain sand.

People line up at neighborhood wells to pump water by hand. Relief officials warned of the danger of disease.

But many residents are not waiting for the government to mount a cleanup effort.

Simon Yu, owner of a hardward store and lumberyard, had two of his trucks half-buried by sand that dried like cement. Nearly half of his stock of lumber, cement, steel bars and other construction supplies lay buried in the debris.

His employees cleared away part of a tree that was stuck in the mud, blocking the gate of his warehouse.

″We will just do the cleaning up ourselves, maybe hire some laborers. We can’t wait for the city government to do this for us,″ said Yu.

Many residents complained that Mayor Antonio Abad Santos failed to warn of the danger to the city. U.S. military personnel and their dependents hurriedly left Clark Air Base the day after the first eruptions.

Abad Sandos, for his part, complained that the Americans had not followed procedures agreed upon with local officials in case of emergencies, and said that caused resentment among the local residents.

The volcano burst to life on June 9 after lying dormant more than 600 years. The huge explosions collapsed sections of the 4,795-foot mountain.

As bad as the volcano’s damage was, the worst devastation may be yet to come - the economic damage that would result if the Americans decide to leave Clark permanently because of the continued threat posed by Pinatubo.

The U.S. lease on Clark, one of the biggest U.S. military facilities overseas, and the Subic Bay naval base expires in September. Before the eruption, talks between Manila and Washington on renewing it had bogged down.

About 18,000 Filipinos are employed by the base, accounting for about 20 percent of local earnings.

In Olongapo, adjacent to Subic Bay, long lines formed at bread shops and merchants rationed customers to one small loaf each. Streets were buried by ash, and drinking water was polluted with mud and debris.

In other towns close to the volcano, people wandered through ash-covered streets seeking relatives or looking for food and clean water.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager said 1 million ready-to-eat meals left over from the Persian Gulf War were being brought in by Navy ships. He also said 16 U.S. earthmovers would be turned over to Philippine authorities to help clear roads.

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