What I Learned From the Mt. Pinatubo Eruption

Way back in 2001, I wrote an essay for school that compared the volcanic eruptions of Mt. Pinatubo to Mt. St. Helens. Mt. Pinatubo is considered one of the more powerful eruptions of the 20th century. When I was living in Angeles City, Philippines, the volcano wasn’t too far away. The main eruption happened on June 15, 1991.

This post will go over three lessons I learned as a result of the volcanic eruption.

I know what it feels like to be involved in a volcanic eruption

As stated earlier, the main eruption happened on June 15, 1991. My brother and I were playing outside when we saw a large mushroom cloud erupt into the sky. We ran inside not knowing what it was.

I had seen nuclear bomb specials on TV before and I thought that’s what the explosion might have been. My mom informed us that it was the volcano erupting.

That sky grew dark quickly as both a volcanic eruption and a typhoon struck at about the same time. The rain soaked the ash and it began to literally rain rocks.

The rain-soaked ash collapsed many structures, including a small part of our house. The night of the major eruption, we had to deal with raining ash, a major typhoon, and non-stop earthquakes.

The next day was fairly sunny. It looked like it had just snowed.

Soon after the eruption, my family and I evacuated to Manila where we awaited our trip back to the United States.

I know what it feels like to be poor

While in the Philippines, my family lived in a fairly nice neighborhood with a nice house. We had a yard boy, a nanny, and a guard dog. We had people cook for us, and had people to buy our groceries.

My family and I arrived around June 22nd, 1991 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gone were the luxuries we were used to.

My mom was familiar with Las Vegas and decided on this city to live in. My mom had a friend with a small apartment and he allowed us all to stay in it until she could afford her own place. For a month, my brother, my sister, my mom, my mom’s friend, and I, all stayed in a small, one-bedroom apartment.

All of our things in the Philippines had to be shipped over, so we literally only had what was in our suit cases. I was ten at the time and when you are that age, you grow out of clothing fast. As a result, my brother and I would always go to school with bad shoes and clothes that didn’t fit. My mom simply couldn’t afford to buy us clothes but once a year.

My mom could only initially find a job cleaning motel rooms, so her income wasn’t that great. We were eventually able to move into our own place in Vegas, but we had absolutely no furniture and had to sleep on the floor.

It was during this time that my brother and I grew very independent (with our mom always working) and tried to make our own money to buy our own clothes, food, school supplies, and more.

I know what it feels like to be an outsider

When I arrived into the US in 1991, I was in culture shock. I could never quite grasp why stores charged $1.99 for something instead of just $2. Beverly Hills 90-2-10 was now Beverly Hills 90210. Power Rangers were just starting to become hit in the US when my brother and I were exposed to them long ago in the Philippines.

My brother and I wore very “non-US” clothes and weren’t used to the slang. We both loved to play in the dirt, which was a no-no at an apartment complex. My brother and I were exposed for the first time to gang violence and the American school system.

I also marveled at how large a US city really was. In the Philippines, I would always walk around my neighborhood. In Vegas, I was kinda afraid to.


Thank you for reading the things I learned from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have about my experiences in the Philippines.

This post was written as part of a group project for Middle Zone Musings. The topic is: What I Learned From

34 thoughts on “What I Learned From the Mt. Pinatubo Eruption”

  1. Ronald, very good entry for the project! I have lived and traveled many places around the world (not the Philipines, yet), but it was always for a job, and I knew it was temporary. Although I've moved my home around the U.S. a few times, I can just barely imagine having to uproot your life and change to a totally new country.

    Culture shock can be a real challenge. 😯 Glad you made it! 😛

  2. Robert,

    Thanks for the well wishes. I’ve moved around so many times, I think I’ve lost count. It’s an adventure every time.


    That’s right! What happened to you though? 😛

  3. Ronald,

    Great lessons, eloquently expressed. Thank you so much for sharing them with us. I guess I was lucky that my neighborhood was being built while I was a kid. Always lots of dirt to play in! 😉


  4. I think I was too young to fully comphrehend what exactly happened on the grand scale of things… I think I kinda just went with the flow and always had the thought that everything would be fine no matter what.. It wasn't until I was a teenager where I started to see poverty and the neighborhood as being a barrier and I developed a little resentment.. I remember the Phillipines and loved it but I think I was too young to really be like WOW I'm in another country.. I liked Vegas.. Maybe it is because I was born there.. In plus whatever issue's I did develop from the way I was raised, I have faced them, and moved on.. and am thankful for all the experience's.. Crazy we were in a Volcanic eruption though! Scary night.. I remember you crying like a little girl all night.. jk

  5. I have watched programmes about volcanic eruptions on Discovery Channel and National Geographic, but never wondered about the hardships that people face because of these natural disasters. I always used to look at them from a “photographic” opportunity and my wife used to chide for me for watching and enjoying “disasters”. Your post kind-of opened my eyes to the human suffering behind such events. thanks for the post.

  6. Rajaram,

    I love watching disaster shows, so don't feel bad. Sometimes it gives a greater appreciation of nature. However, I wouldn't wish a natural disaster on anyone.


    Yes. I loved dirt when I was younger! My brother and I would hunt and destroy all ants we could find. In the process, we demolished our back yard.


    I think that was you crying like a little girl. 🙂

    1. Sheila Sullivant

      Brotherly love!! I was on the U.S.S. Cape Cod that came to help with fresh water a few days after the actual eruption. I can remember thinking and wondering how terrifying it must have been.

  7. I was in the Navy then and conducted the evacuation of dependants from clark and subic to cebu city. It was insane!

  8. :), im doing a research on what really happened during the Mt pinatubo eruption. One fellow said that it was not an ordinary volcano eruption, actually, it was not a volcano at all. It was a bomb, bomb left behind by [americans]…

    i dont kow, still doing a research on that. 🙂

  9. I lived stateside and went to the island as a child. My Aunt and Uncle taught on Clark Air Base. (Dr.Parsley) I have to say being there was a real awaking.

    I did not want to come back to the States when my time there was up, people had more kindness about them, more culture and cared about each other. I left a few years before the awaking of Pinatubo,and it was heartbreaking to hear what had happened to so many people.

    I remember watching Pinatubo from the playground at Clark, I was always fearful of it. For some reason I was not buying into the fact that it was just “sleeping”.

    Still today, I carry around memories… great ones–of so many kind people. Part of me will always want to have my life surronded by such wonderful caring people again, and part of me will always remain on CAFB.

    You know what I’m talking about! 🙂

  10. Tina »

    The only teacher I remember is my brother’s 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Cavet (not sure if that’s how it’s spelled). I went to a school named Wurtsmith.

    I do remember CAFB as the nicest, cleanest place I have ever seen. I have yet to see a place to mimic it. So I have fond memories of CAFB. However, I also have memories of growing up in Angeles City, which was not the nicest, cleanest place I’ve ever seen 🙂

  11. Well the Mt. Pinatubo presentation went well, they enjoyed your story the most, thanks for the help, I owe you.
    (I got a B pluss)

  12. i know you felt i was in the manlia and we were having a wedding, my aunt
    and we saw our house get meleted

  13. hey. i found this peice really good. I live in the Philippines now and last year, (gr.4) we were studying about our past presidents. and when we were studying about Corazon Aquino(cory), we learned that mt. pinatubo erupted. and m teacher in that subject told her experience too. after she told us, i learned that lots of people were experiencing poverty. that night. i asked my mom if she still remembered anything about the erpution. Like everyone, she shared some stories that my grandmother and grandfather owned a bakery. they sold A LOT of cupcackes! But then when the eruption happened, the people there owed a lot of money but they couldn’t pay the amount back. So my grandmother felt VERY sorry for them and said:”hindi na kailangan bayaran ang kailangan niyong bayaran sa akin.” wich means in english: “you dont have to pay what you owe me anymore.” but then. she eventually lost her bussines. but what i learend from there was that lots of people lost their homes during the eruption and and were simply left homeless. About months after my mom told me the story, it was summer. and the first place we went to was Baguio. on the way, we saw gray dust. it was EVERYWHERE! and my mom explained to us that those were the ashes form the mt. pinatubo eruption. there were so many! and i could imagine how it looked like before!(it wasnt a pretty site:[) i also couldnt imagine it reaching so far!(the ashes) im sure we’re gonna study about this in grade six again, so im gonna share everything i learned with all my classmates. thanks for the story! it was so well written!:)

  14. I was a part of the evacuation too, I was stationed aboard USS Arkansas and we transported a lot of the refugees to Mactan Island in Cebu. Being one of the Rescue Swimmers aboard the ship I spent a lot of time on deck with the refugees. It is very hard to find information anywhere about the evacuation effort, even on Navy and Unit history sites related to the ships and units involved.

    1. That was a fun trip. Only time in my enlistment we had babies & pets on the fantail. The evacuees were all very nice!

  15. Hey dude! Thanks for the info! It was really well written! I’m doing this report on Mt. Pinatubo in geography at school. And this story really helped me a lot! I always feel so sorry for the people that died in the eruption. It makes me very sad to hear about all those people out on the streets. Anyway thanks for the info.

    Ps. I am so getting an A+!!!

  16. I was 9 when Mt. Pinatubo erupted and I remember the black mushroom cloud and the raining ash. My dad was stationed in Subic Bay and stayed behind to help evacuate and clean up while we had to take a ship to Cebu and fly out from there. I totally relate to the culture shock and being poor. It was me, my mom, and my little sister in Minnesota (where my dad was from!) I remember we had to walk to the bank in the snow, and people drove by laughing and telling us to get a car! My mom had to get our clothes from Goodwill and we rented out someone’s basement. And we totally lived it up in the Philippines. We had nannies and caretakers too!! It’s crazy how life was affected by the eruption. If it had never happened I know that I would still be in the Philippines because that’s where my father wanted to retire. I wouldn’t know anything about life in the States. I now live in southern California. But all in all, it’s a great life story that I will be able to tell my children. And my husband still thinks it’s an incredible story!

  17. I was there during the erruption too, but in Subic. We were evacuated on the USS Abraham Lincoln. It’s a time I will never forget, when the sky got dark and the ground shook. No power, no water, and coming home with what could fit in our slightly damp suitcases from standing in the rain all day waiting to get on the boat. I will always remember the kind sailors who got us safely back home (and to where there was power and water).

  18. I was 20 years old when 2001 Mt. Pinatubo erupted. My parents are not around and I was taking care of my baby sister. I was shock when I notice it was gloomy that day and little by little ash falls and cover our roof with ash for just an hour. I need then to wash it so that our roof will not fall.

  19. I think that was a bad disaster happened in the Philippines way back in 90’s many people was dead and animals. Lot of people homeless that time when mt.Pinatubo was erupt.

  20. I think I was too young to fully comprehend what exactly happened on the grand scale of things. One fellow said that it was not an ordinary volcano eruption, actually, it was not a volcano at all.

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