Residents displaced by an erupting volcano near the Philippine capital were allowed to briefly return home and check on their property as a “stress reliever” yesterday amid uncertainty about how long they will need to stay away.
The Taaal Volcano in Batangas province, which is 66km south of Manila and located in the middle of a lake of the same name, has been sporadically expelling ash and lava since Sunday, forcing more than 82,000 people to flee their homes. Many were forced to flee with only a few belongings because the volcano’s activity escalated suddenly.
“We thought we will just be staying overnight,” said Edgardo Mercado, an 80-year-old grandfather from Talisay, one of the towns affected by the eruption. Authorities have ordered everyone to leave. “Now they are saying that they don’t know how long we need to stay in evacuation centres,” he added.”We can’t leave our homes, our belongings unattended here.”
Police allowed the residents up to four hours to check on their livestock and properties. The residents shovelled ash from their rooms and yards, cleaned vehicles and chopped off plants that had dried up. Some broken windows were boarded up, while doors were padlocked to prevent burglary.
Some were also allowed to return to the main volcano island, to rescue farm animals left behind in their haste as they left their homes. “I was able to get 15 horses, but there are more animals that I need to go back for,” said a man herding the weak horses along a dusty road in Talisay. Behind him, a man herded three cows and a horse, all very thin and covered in ash. “It’s a form of assistance to them as it is already stressful.
It’s like a stress reliever to them to lessen their worries,” Batangas police director Colonel Edwin Quilates told a Manila radio interview. At least four towns around the volcano were on lockdown, with roads leading to them effectively closed.
Police manned checkpoints and blocked people and vehicles entering without clearance. At the end of the grace period for residents to check their properties, a police vehicle roamed the towns, with officers announcing via a public address system that it was time to leave. “We will just come back again tomorrow,” said Domeng Tenorio, 52,
from the nearby town of Laurel, where rows of houses and other structures had roofs that caved in from the weight of the ash fall. “I’ll admit it’s scary at night because we don’t know what will happen to the volcano,” he added.”But we also want to make sure that our properties are safe.” The volcano’s activity in the past day has “generally waned” to a weak emission of steam-laden plumes, which could mean a long lull period, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said. However, Phivolcs volcano division chief Maria Antonia Bornas said there was still a threat of hazardous eruption.
“This is the complex and difficult part of the evacuation when there are prolonged activity of the volcano and there are periods of prolonged lull,” she said in a press conference yesterday.
Taal Volcano, the second most active in the Philippines, has erupted 33 times since 1572. Its last eruption was in October 1977, but it showed signs of unrest between 2008 and 2011, as well as in 2019.
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