STO. TOMAS, BATANGAS – Hours after Taal Volcano erupted January 12, thousands of families from the municipalities of Agoncillo, Lemery, Talisay, San Nicolas and several villages in Tanauan City were loaded on to military trucks and were brought to safer areas in Sto. Tomas.
The evacuees stayed for more than two weeks in the municipality’s gym, covered courts, schools, barangay halls, and churches.
For more than two weeks, all forms of help poured out – from clothes, food, water, medicines, milk, toiletries and brand new school supplies for children.
In aid distribution lines and rooms crowded by evacuees, one thing still shone amid the disaster - the Batangas residents’ discipline.
San Vicente Elementary School’s 26 rooms served as the temporary home for a total of 689 evacuees, according to Principal Wennie Gonzales.
As of this writing, more than 400 individuals are still staying inside the school.
Four to 10 families shared the rooms; some were neighbors, while others share the available spaces with complete strangers.
The school’s well-painted rooms are equipped with a flat screen television set, electric fans, a computer set, lead lights and a comfort room.
ABS-CBN News checked on each room shortly after noontime one weekend and saw the evacuees using cartons and paper fans to cool themselves amid the warm weather.
A female evacuee from Room 24A said they only turn on the television and electric fan when advised by school officials, or during nighttime.
“Ayaw din po kasi naming magsayang masyado ng kuryente at nakakahiya. Nakikituloy na nga lang po kami eh,” the evacuee from Tanauan City said.
To kill boredom, she said they instruct their children to either play inside the school compound or read books inside their temporary shelter.
Lovely, one of the village’s youth leader-volunteers, said they regularly lock the school compound’s gate at exactly 10 in the evening to ensure the safety of everyone.
In another classroom, two women just finished cleaning the comfort room.
One of them said they did it by themselves to make sure that everything will be the same once they leave the school.
“Ayaw naming maging pabigat, Ma’am lalo na at pinapatira na nga nila kami dito,” the woman from Agoncillo said.
In Barangay San Felix, also in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, more than 200 families coming from the municipality of Talisay, stayed at the covered court, with pieces of cartons warming their back.
Not a single complaint can be heard from them.
Village chief Gerry Punzalan said they decided to shelter the evacuees using their personal funds and assistance from friends and strangers coming from various places.
“Wala na silang pupuntahan eh. Pinagkakasya na lang namin ang suplay,” he said.
Families meantime opted to occupy the corners of the court.
Each family also makes sure that the space is tidy and that their respective belongings are segregated and properly packed.
In both areas, evacuees quietly line up and patiently wait for their turn every time that a visitor comes in to deliver relief goods.
There is neither shouting nor complaint along the line. Instead, many help their fellow evacuees carry their aid packs.
Others guard their fellow evacuees’ belongings.
Around 50 families from Taal eruption-affected areas also sought temporary refuge in Barangay Bitin in Bae, Laguna.
Village chief John Paul Villegas said he decided to stop the evacuees’ transfer because of the latter’s fear that they will no longer be able to return to their homes in San Nicolas.
The evacuees said they make sure that every corner of the barangay hall is clean.
“Sa pagiging malinis namin pinapakita ang pasasalamat namin sa kanilang lahat na kumukupkop sa amin… bahala na sa kanila ang Panginoon sa naging pagtulong nila sa amin,” an elderly evacuee said.