Philippine grandma sews face masks for Taal volcano evacuees

LIPA, Philippines (Reuters) - When demand and prices of face masks shot up after a small yet destructive volcano south of the Philippine capital suddenly spewed volcanic ash, a 61-year-old seamstress sprang into action to help her neighbors.

Rosalina Mantuano, a seamstress for 45 years, began sewing dozens of colorful masks using scrap fabric in her atelier and gave it away for free to her neighbors in Lipa city, just 20 km (12 miles) from the Taal volcano.

“As a seamstress, I thought what if I made my own masks and give it away for free to those affected. That is what I did,” said Mantuano, who makes 100 face masks a day.

Many residents and tourists were caught off guard after Taal shot giant clouds of ash high into the air on Sunday.

Shortly after the eruption, supply of face masks dropped and prices increased to as much as five times the usual price. The Philippine trade ministry has threatened to sue businessmen and shutter their shops for raising prices to unreasonable levels.

Cloth donations poured in when people heard of Manuano’s efforts, she said. She has since received cloth donations, allowing her to produce around 400 more checkered, flowery and striped face masks.

“A lot of people here needed face masks, supplies were sold out and others were very expensive,” said neighbor Remedios Guevarra.

Mantuano’s son-in-law, a member of a motorcycle riders’ group, delivers food and the home-made masks to evacuation centers.

Taal volcano is now on its fifth day of continuously spewing ash and steam, with authorities banning evacuees from returning to their homes located in the danger zone.

Reporting by Adrian Portugal in Lipa; Writing by Neil Jerome Morales, Editing by Timothy Heritage