MANILA - After most drugstores all over Metro Manila ran out of supplies of face masks, dozens of cautious residents trooped to Bambang in Sta. Cruz, Manila on Monday in the hopes of finding stocks.
Rico Basbas, a customer service representative for a brokerage firm, drove all the way from Parañaque, to buy masks.
"Di na maganda amoy ng hangin. Amoy sulfur at alikabok, medyo suffocating," he said.
(It smells like sulfur and dust. It's suffocating.)
Basbas was lucky he managed to buy more than 60 N95 masks for his office. Some of his co-workers, he said, are based in Batangas and badly needed the N95 masks.
Ofie Saltivan also went to Manila from Caloocan to look for face masks.
"Especially sa akin, asthmatic ako tsaka officemates ng anak ko na nagwowowork sa Supreme Court," she said.
Sampaloc resident Jocelyn Reyes had been looking for masks in 5 pharmacies last night.
"Naisipan namin pumunta dito kasi marami sa hilera dito...nakita ko may pumipila, nagbabakasakali lang," she said.
She bought N95 face masks for her relatives who have yet to evacuate from Lipa and Batangas City.
Rescue worker Mark Anthony Villar from Caloocan was rushing to help rescue operations in Batangas but had to drop by a drug store in Sta. Cruz to buy masks for personal use.
"This is personal gamit ng personnel namin para maging safety po kami para pagdating sa area, madaling makasafety sa mga tao," he explained.
The drug store gave him a discount.
Amid concerns of rapidly vanishing face masks supplies, Michelle Carungay of wholesaler Uni-Asia Healthcare Corporation assured buyers they still have plenty of supplies.
"Marami po, kasi ngayon lang gumalaw, awa ng Diyos.
Sobrang dami po, di po sya mauubusan," she said, referring to customers who were queueing outside their story Monday morning.
The store sells US-manufactured N95 masks with filter at 95 pesos. Other N95 masks without filter are sold at between 45 to 65 pesos.
In another store along Bambang road, the queue number has reached more than 500 as of 2:00 pm.
But not all drug stores still have N95 masks.
Lowee Gonzales' pharmacy ran out of stock Sunday night.
"Nag-open lang kami kagabi ng store at kumuha for personal use, pinilahan na, ayun binenta na rin namin," he said.
But he's still selling ordinary surgical masks at 50 pesos per box with 50 pieces each.
Other stores have put up signs saying they've ran out of stock of both N95 and ordinary masks.
Despite the high demand and dwindling supplies, both Carungay and Gonzales say they have no plans of raising prices.
Other masks available in Sta. Cruz are two-sided machine-sewn cloth masks sold at 3 pieces for P100.
The Department of Health has recommended using N95 masks in areas heavily affected by ashfall. It said Monday it will distribute P1.5 million worth of face masks in Calabarzon.
“What we really recommend is the use of the N95 mask because it is the most efficient [to avoid inhaling volcanic ash]. In less affected areas, people can use surgical masks or (multiple layers) of cloth,” Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said.
N95 masks can filter out at least 95% of airborne particles, as certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the United States government-agency responsible for certification and approval of respiratory protective devices for occupational use.
Surgical masks do not provide the same protection as N95 masks, although they protect against droplets including large respiratory particles, according to the website of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Most surgical masks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales," it said.
A pricier alternative is an N100 mask which blocks 99.97 percent of non-oil-based particulates.
In the absence of N95 masks, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology advise using a clean damp cloth to cover the mouth and nose.
Ashfall has reached parts of Metro Manila, especially southern cities, after Taal volcano in Batangas erupted on Sunday. Alert level 4 remained over parts of the province, with disaster officials saying a "hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days."