Friday, January 26, 2018

Gimme Shelter

A woman sorts her clothing in the tent she sleeps in in a classroom at the school she is sheltering in during the eruption of the Mayon volcano. She said she's staying in the tent of because the roof of the classroom leaks. 

I think the important story at this point in the volcano's eruption is the developing humanitarian crisis in Albay province. Evacuations of communities on the slope of the volcano started around the 15th of January. Althought exact numbers fluctuate, the provincial disaster mitigation office said about 27,000 people were evacuated in the first week. In the days since the large eruptions of January 22, an additional 52,000 people have been evacuated. In total, more than 80,000 people have been evacuated from the mountain. 
Evacuees at a shelter in Camalig line up for supplies, including mosquito nets. This photo was made before the eruption of January 22. These people have been re-evacuated to another shelter further from the volcano. 

The government has done an impressive job of moving people out of harm's way. Government agencies that monitor the volcano issue a constant stream of alerts, local media reports on every development on the mountain and people are responsive to the news. Government trucks started moving people out of the expanded evacuation zone hours after it was expanded following the January 22 eruption. 
Evacuees in the back of a government truck leave their homes following an eruption. 
An ash cloud passes over the country side as people self evacuate after the large eruption on January 22. 

Now the schools are full. But the volcano is still erupting and the evacuation zones are expanding. The government is making plans for mass evacuations by sea in the event of a cataclysmic eruption. People are sleeping in the open in impromptu camps set up along the highways. Because of the volcano's volatility, the government is making plans to house people for up to three months.  
Evacuees arrive at a shelter. 
Getting drinking water at a shelter in Ligao. 
A man and his daughter in a temporary shelter on the side of a road in Santo Domingo. 
A woman knocks the water off the roof of her temporary shelter after a rain. She's living in a clearing on the side of the road. 
A woman and her daughter walk through the clearing that is becoming an impromptu shelter for people leaving the mountain. 

Life is not easy in the shelters. There are 25 - 50 people sleeping in each classroom. People are cooking in the rooms, in the halls, where ever they can find space. The rooms are hot, noisy and crowded. That's one reason some people are sleeping rough on the side of the road. It's not as confining. On the other hand, it's been raining a lot this week and the people living in the impromptu shelters in the forest are basically living in mud bogs. Everything is soaking wet. And nothing will dry out until it stops raining. 

Some of the schools are so crowded people are building thatched huts and tents in courtyards and sports fields on the school grounds. 
A man digs a drainage ditch between tents at a shelter in a school in Santo Domingo. 

It's easy to see how keeping 80,000 people in shelters, away from their homes, their livestock and their farms for 90 days could lead to a crisis. The government has to provide food, water and medical care for 80,000 people for 90 days. In that time, hundreds of babies will be born. And hundreds of people will die of natural causes. Thousands of children will see their education disrupted. 
A woman who is 8+ months pregnant in her tent in Santo Domingo. She said she expects to give birth in the next couple of weeks. Which, more than likely, means she will give birth in the camp. 

I talked to government officials and local elected officials. They've been upbeat about the task they face. But that was before the numbers swelled to 80,000 and timeline expanded to 90 days. 
Children in an evacuation center play games with a hula hoop. The event was organized by the Philippine Red Cross

A woman in an evacuation center in Ligao looks out at the school courtyard. Her laundry is hanging around her. 

No one knows how this is going to end. It would be great if the mountain stopped erupting and went back down to a level 2 or even 1 and people could go home. But PHILVolcs (the government agency that monitors the volcano) said only about 30% of the magma has been discharged and pressure is still building inside the volcano. People can't go home under those circumstances. Soon pressure will also be building in the evacuation centers. 

There are more photos of the evacuees in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Under the Volcano

Mayon volcano, one of the most active in the Philippines, erupts on Tuesday, 23 January 2018. This picture was made from a viewpoint in Legazpi, about 13 kilometers from the volcano. E-M1 Mark II, 45mm f1.8 lens, ISO200, f2.8, 111 seconds. 

I'm in Legazpi photographing the eruption of the Mayon volcano. I've learned a lot about volcanoes on this trip. Volcanic eruptions are a process - it doesn't erupt and then go back to sleep, especially Mayon, which has been continuously active for centuries. 
An eruption Monday afternoon, 22 January. E-M1 Mark II, 12mm f2, ISO200, f4.5, 1/3200. Photographed in Camalig, about 8 kilometers from the volcano and just outside the danger zone. 

Instead it's a process. Pressure builds up in the volcano and it starts a series of eruptions. Those eruptions may, or may not, culminate in a massive destructive eruption that destroys huge swaths of land and causes thousands of deaths. 

Mayon rumbled back life in the middle of January. I waited a week, to make sure it wasn't a false alarm, and then flew to Legazpi. The timing on volcanos is tricky. Too soon and you end up waiting for "the" eruption. Too late and you miss it. In this case, I feel like the timing worked out pretty well. 
What I now think of as a medium sized eruption on Saturday, 20 January, my first night in Legazpi. E-M1 Mark II, 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom, ISO800, f4.0, 0.5 seconds. Tripod. Made from the fire exit of my hotel. This was made late at night with no ambient light left in the sky. 

I got into Legazpi on 20 January, on the first flight of the day. The volcano was quiet, and it was cloudy and rainy - we couldn't have seen the volcano even if it had been active. We went out to the evacuation centers and photographed people in the centers. After several hours in the centers, I checked into my hotel and started editing the pictures I made during the day. I made the photo of the small lava flow just before I went to bed. I went out to check on the volcano and lava was flowing down one side. 
A better lava flow but still no ambient light, made on 22 January. E-M1 Mark II, 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom, ISO200, f4, 75 seconds. This was the same day as the dramatic eruption I saw in Camalig. Tripod. 

The volcano really roared to life on Monday afternoon. There was the dramatic eruption in the middle of the day and another dramatic eruption that started about 8:30 in the evening. The afternoon eruption triggered more evacuations and pushed out the danger zone. Authorities also raised the threat level from 3 to 4 (on a scale of 0 - 5). Zero is the lowest threat level and Mayon is seldom at zero. When I asked what "normal" was, a volcanologist told me level 1 was normal for Mayon. I asked about zero and he said it was at zero for a "few months" in the early 2000s. If it goes to level 5 it means a cataclysmic eruption is underway.  

Covering a volcano that is erupting intermittently is kind of a matter of luck. We spend the days driving around the countryside at the base of the volcano (usually outside the evacuation zones) looking for photos of evacuees or people coping with the volcano's disruption. Then when the volcano erupts we photograph the eruption. Sometimes it's both at the same time. 
A worker mines volcanic rock and sand in ancient lava flow of Mayon just as another eruption starts, 23 January. Pen F, 12mm f2, ISO200, f4, 1/2000. This was made just inside the danger zone.

When an eruption took place during the day, we would drive to communities on the west side of the volcano to photograph the ash fall. We were always too late to make a good ash fall photo. We worked the west side of the volcano one day to be prepositioned for the ash fall, but it was cloudy (we couldn't see the cone) and the volcano was relatively inactive. That's where the luck thing comes into play. 

On Thursday, 25 January, I took the day off to deal with some airline issues (the airport was closed and I needed to rebook my return to Bangkok) and to rest a little after five days of very intense photography. The volcano was pretty quiet through the day, but I decided to take a chance that we'd have an eruption, and I went to a church that has a great overview of the mountain. And luck came back into play. 
Luck. I was set up and waiting for an eruption so I could make a time exposure. A couple who had just gotten married in the church walked out on the overlook and the volcano erupted. Pen F, 17mm f1.8 lens, ISO400 f4 1/30. I could have gone to any of a handful of overviews. The volcano could have decided not to erupt. The clouds, which socked in the cone when I got to the church, could have stayed and obstructed the view. But everything worked out. 
Same place, 10 minutes later. E-M1 Mark II, 75mm f1.8 lens, ISO400, f2, 1/13th. Handheld. 
This is a picture I went to the church to make. I was hoping for a sunset eruption because I wanted to hold some detail in the sky and get a foreground that represented a human presence. The lava flow wasn't huge, but I was satisfied with the way the photo came out. Pen F, 25mm f1.8 lens, ISO200, f4.5, 148 seconds. Tripod.

I'm going to be in Legazpi until 01 February. Between now and then, I hope to photograph some more eruptions and I will photograph more of people coping with the volcano. 

That is turning into a huge challenge for the local governments. PhilVOLCS, the government agency that monitors volcanic activity, is predicting Mayon could be like this for weeks or months. Disaster preparation planners are expecting people will have to live in the shelters for three months. That means the government needs to find a way to care for and feed the people for three months. Schools are used as shelters here, so it also means the schools have to juggle the students' needs against their community responsibility as a shelter.

More than 80,000 people have been forced out of their homes. So far the government has been able to meet their needs, but even if the volcano doesn't have a cataclysmic eruption, the situation could still spin into a humanitarian crisis. I plan to write another blog entry about the shelters when I get a chance to. 

There are many more photos of life under the volcano in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.