DPA / Manila
Philippine authorities yesterday struggled to keep people out of danger zones around an erupting volcano, as some officials and residents challenged warnings that a more hazardous explosion could happen.
Taal volcano in Batangas province, 66 kilometres south of Manila, began ejecting huge dark clouds of ash and steam on January 12 and later on lava fountains, forcing more than 130,000 people to flee their homes.
In past days, activity at the volcano has been characterised by “steady steam emission and infrequent weak explosions,” according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs). Volcanic earthquakes, ground deformation and high sulphur dioxide emissions, however, indicate “continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity,” the institute said.
Phivolcs head Renato Solidum said the public should not be fooled by the apparent simmering down of the activity because they can currently only see white steam.
“People might think nothing is happening, but there is movement underneath,” he said. “The steam emissions mean there is magma rising.”
“We are seeing a recharge or re-supply of magma from underground heading towards the volcano island and causing the quakes,” he added.
“If the magma reaches the crater, it could cause a strong explosion.” – But Charlie Natanauan, the vice mayor of Talisay, one of the towns badly affected by the eruption, challenged Solidum’s assessment.
“No one in the world can predict a volcanic eruption,” he said, “How can he say that it will happen?”
“We should be allowed to go back to our homes because no one can detect an explosion,” he added. “Nothing is happening now.”
Mayor Fulgencio Mercado of Taal town said many residents were not prepared for the evacuation and believed that their faith will save them from impending disaster.
“It’s so hard to convince people to leave,” he said. “Up to now, people are staying behind.”
“They always tell me that God will take care of them,” he added. “It breaks my heart.
Who does not want to go home? But we have to follow the law, we are in the danger zone so we have to evacuate.”
Despite the warnings, some tourists still visit Taal, a heritage town where many old houses and museums are located.
The tourist sites have been closed, and old paintings and other historical artefacts from the town have been evacuated too.
At least three people have died since the volcano started erupting — one from a heart attack while evacuating and two in evacuation centres due to illness, local officials said.
Damage to crops and infrastructure has been estimated at more than 400mn pesos ($80mn), the Philippine national disaster risk reduction agency said.
Taal volcano, the second most active volcano 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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