The active Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines may be half a world away from Harford County, but for Ching and Alberto Barretto of Darlington and Ben and Lita Oteyza of Bel Air, the disaster seems very close to home indeed.
The two Filipino-American families have relatives and friends who were evacuated from the area near the volcanofollowing its June 12 eruption.
The Barrettos and Oteyzas are among the Filipino-Americans in thecounty who have listened to firsthand accounts of the misery residents of the Philippines are experiencing.
That's why the two families, and other Filipino-Americans living in Harford, have banded together in a relief effort for Philippine residents affected by the catastrophe.
"We're a very close-knit group," said Ben Oteyza, referringto the 100 families in Harford who are part of the Filipino-AmericanAssociation of the Upper Chesapeake. "But you don't just help your family. You have to help where it's needed."
The Filipino-American Association of the Upper Chesapeake, formed to sponsor area charity and social events, is working in conjunction with the Washington-basedFilipino-American Foundation Inc. to gather clothing and other supplies to send overseas.
So far, the two associations have started a "Dollar From the Heart" campaign, soliciting $1 contributions to helpthose in the Philippines affected by the volcano and other disasters. Contributions to that campaign here are handled through the Maryland-based Foundation for Aid to the Philippines Inc.
"One dollar. What does it mean to you? A Coca-Cola? French fries?" says Sony Florendo, a Baltimore City resident and vice president of the Filipino-American Foundation, working with the Harford group to coordinate the transportation of food and clothing with offerings from Filipino communities in West Virginia and Virginia.
"But to a Filipino family, thatwill make a big difference. Seventy-five cents will feed one person for a day."
She said more than 250 people have died following the volcanic eruption at Mount Pinatubo -- the first in 600 years -- and the natural disasters that followed such as earthquakes, a typhoon and mud flows.
More than 200,000 others have been displaced by the disasters. Clark Air Force Base, heavily damaged by Mount Pinatubo, located 10 miles west of the base, has been evacuated and closed.
There are other problems, too, said Oteyza.
There's no electricity, no drinking water. A layer of volcanic ash sits over everything -- 2 feet deep in some places and piled like snowdrifts in others, said Oteyza, a family physician.
Oteyza has lived in the United States since 1956 but maintains strong cultural and family ties to his native country.
"For the past two weeks we've all been up late every night, sorting through everything," he said. "Summer-weight clothing, food, medicine, linen, blankets -- they can use blankets as a cover fromthe sun -- pots and pans, and shoes. I also hear what they need is spades to get the ash from their homes and land. The volcano is still erupting and spewing ash."
It is the ash that will cause the most problems for the Philippines in the years to come, said Oteyza, because too much ash will affect the very fertile soil.
"And if the ashgets wet, it hardens like cement," said Oteyza. "It's the long-term effect that is so tragic."
Ching Barretto said believes she and other Filipino-Americans says many Americans don't have a firm grasp onthe devastation in parts of their native country. But she and her family understand from the eyewitness accounts in letters and telephonecalls from friends and family.
"The media didn't touch on it," said Barretto, who hasn't heard from her father's family in the weeks since the eruption. "What we saw on TV were people leaving Clark Air Base. The impact isn't the same as when we had the (San Francisco) earthquake."
Barretto is also concerned about the effect the closing of Clark will have on the country's economic recovery.
"People should remember the Philippines is a country in need of help -- a very poor country," said Barretto.
"With Clark not being reconstructed, more than 100,000 jobs will be lost among the middle class who are good earners."
Oteyza said he plans to attend his 35th college reunion in the Philippines in December.
"I don't know what I will find," he said, shaking his head.
Contributions can be sent to Foundation for Aid to the Philippines Inc., 839 Darlington Road, Darlington, 21034.