We arrived in the Philippines in May 1991. We checked out our "office" (more like a hole in the wall in the corner of the bar) in Manila & proceeded to Angeles City to find somewhere to live. After a little searching around, we found a spectacular American style house with 4 bedrooms & 3 bathrooms, one each of which comprised the "maid's quarters" down the other end of the house next to the kitchen. We signed up for it, paying for 6 months in advance to drop the rent even further. At that time, Clark Air Force Base was winding down & the owners were keen to get anyone into their houses. We were still staying at the Clarkton Hotel when we heard rumours of a possible volcanic eruption & watched the Americans evacuate the base.
The following morning, we woke to a very strong sulphur smell & a dense cloudy haze all around. Around mid-morning, the sky went black. I believe this was the initial eruption of Mt Pinatubo. It cleared for a while, then went black again & was to stay that way until the next morning. The only illumination in photos taken at the time is the flash. Then it started raining small rocks & then sand. In all, we received 6 inches of sand. The sand itself would not have done too much damage if it had not been raining. Wet sand weighs so much more & many of the flat roofs in the surrounding residential area simply caved in under the weight. My personal theory is that the low pressure system in the area at the time was the final trigger that popped the volcano's cork.
With Doris's emergency nursing training & my emergency services training, we quickly analysed our various options, including escape routes, general safety, food options, and so on. All in all, we were reasonably OK, in that we had a food supply in the kitchen, a reasonably secure building, entertainment for the kids & somewhere to sleep. And when a minor tremor hit & all the Filipinos immediately jammed the front door of the reception area, we knew that this was not the direction we would go. Later in the afternoon, when the earthquakes started, I remember leaning against a pillar & having it hit me in the back from about 9 inches away. We were told that the year before, in the earthquake that demolished the mountain city of Baguio, the water in the pool sloshed up & down, overflowing into the reception area, but the building had withstood the quake with no other damage. So we were relatively safe. In reality we were very lucky that Pinatubo blew out pumice rock rather than deadly gases, which is the case with the Taal volcano, the one we drove past every time we went to Puerto Galera. Very few people are injured when Taal blows - most of them are killed.
I recall the kids (Stewart & Simon) watching a video (actually a laser video disk, the forerunner to the CD & the DVD) at the height of the earthquakes. Their chairs were moving one way & the TV cabinet moving in the opposite direction, & their eyes never left the screen! That evening, we repacked our bags so that we each had a small backpack containing the essentials. These were lined up in the entrance way in our room & we all slept fully clothed, so that in the event of a bus arriving to get us out of there, we could be mobilised very quickly. It actually took most of the following morning to arrange transport to the Australian-run hotel across town, who had arranged buses to come in & evacuate the Aussies & their partners. Mick took one look at us with 2 kids in tow & ordered us onto the next bus out of town. Once we left the hotel, he actually guarded the door with a loaded pistol. The 6 inches of wet sand had by this time become a continuous series of 6 inch deep potholes, so the going was very slow. The trip on the toll way (which was all one way - out) to the next town, which normally takes about 20 minutes, took about 3 hours. Once in Manila, we managed to snaffle one of the last remaining hotel rooms in downtown Manila & crashed.
A few days later, we arranged for a Manila-based jeepney driver to take us back to Angeles City. It was like driving through a moonscape or a snow field. Palm trees had all of their branches broken off downwards. Lots of trees had broken branches hanging off. We had to approach the subdivision from the back as there were too many blockages on the main road. The whole town was still in shock.
The house was just a little dusty inside & of course the 6 inches of sand was everywhere. Later on, we paid the family of our favourite local jeepney driver to help us to clean the place up & the workers from the subdivision worked on the sand problem. The sand off the roof created a pile a couple of feet high around the building, the sand off the whole block created a pile in the street about 6 feet high. So you could tell the ones that were inhabited - they were the ones with the big pile of sand outside. And for months afterwards, we drove around the streets dodging huge piles of sand.
Further up the estate, where the river had gone through, we found very expensive houses with solid sandy mud up to 4 feet deep, right through the whole house. On the night of the eruption itself, the volume of "stuff" in the rivers caused them to overflow whatever dam system were in place upstream, resulting in a huge flood cascading down the river bed. We heard a story much later about a man whose car had been swept off the toll way bridge & had survived. The mixture in the river was actually liquid sand, known as lahar, which is highly abrasive & cuts away at the river bank. As the bank falls into the river, so does what is on the bank, such as houses, roads, entire villages. The Angeles City Hospital just disappeared downstream in pieces. Most of the bridges in Angeles were destroyed that night & the toll way bridge eventually succumbed as well. Actually it wasn't the bridge itself, it was the roadway leading to the bridge that fell in. We became very good at fording rivers in our little jeep!
Then as the disaster progressed, the river bed, which was now full of mud, couldn't take any more & proceeded to spread out sideways as more debris came down the river. Any low lying village was simply buried in sand. We took photos of the top of a school assembly hall just poking out from the sand. Later on, Doris featured in a Sixty Minutes program. During filming, they interviewed a man who was about to start digging his house out. He got to a sheet of roofing iron & the camera panned in as they lifted it. Mike Munro, who anchored the segment, expected to look down into the house & all he saw was more solid sand. It's probably the only time he has ever cracked up on camera.