Danger looms over Taal volcano in Philippines as locals return despite warnings

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Nearly 5,000 people are still at risk in the Philippines’ village of Taal, where a volcano recently erupted. Despite warnings from officials, locals have not moved from the island they call home.

Spewing toxic fumes and heavy ash from the bowl-shaped depression, the Taal volcano is one of the Philippines’ 53 active zones. An AP report confirmed that the area near the volcano is demarcated as a permanent danger zone – meaning the area is off-limits for human settlement.

A New York Times story provided a first-person look at a resident’s account of accessing the troubled area after the eruption. The story describes the journey of Melvin Mendoza, a boatman who defied evacuation orders and went back to his now-destroyed home.

Other more fortunate residents who went back to Taal managed to save a few belongings and means of livelihood. Photos from various reports show solemn inhabitants of the island guiding livestock onto ferries in an apparent bid to minimize losses among the other knee-deep, ash-coated belongings.

“Almost everything was destroyed,” Christian Morales told The Associated Press, adding that he was only able to get his bearings after seeing the cross of a mud-encrusted Catholic church where he used to attend Mass. “If anybody defied orders and stayed behind, he would have been killed without a doubt.”

The Taal region falls under the “ring of fire” zone. The 40,000-kilometer region is one of frequent seismic activity, notably volcanic eruptions. The picturesque tourist spot last made news in October 2019, when The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs) recorded 87 volcanic quakes in 24 hours. Soon after, multiple reports suggested an eruption in the near future.

Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recommended that the island’s residents not be allowed to return to the island, ever.

“I strongly believe ... that Taal island will be declared a no man’s land,” Lorenzana said Tuesday during the televised emergency meeting. “We should not allow people to return there, because if there are more violent explosions, people will perish on that island.”
Currently, the warning level stands at four – tremors and earthquakes with “hazardous eruption possible within days,” only one level below the maximum – “hazardous eruption in progress.”

The Manila International Airport, approximately 60 kilometers from the site of eruption, had suspended all flights to and from the airport on Sunday, but has since resumed operations. At the time of writing, an airport official confirmed that there have been delays in arrivals, but said he does not expect flights to be completely suspended.

Various Middle East-based Filipino nationals voiced their concerns on Twitter.

An AP report details how Taal’s destructive explosions have proven deadly in the past, including a 1965 eruption that killed more than 200 people and ravaged the island’s villages. The last serious eruption in the Philippines was the Mayon volcano on January 22, 2018, which also triggered a level four warning from Philvolcs.

Of the people who fled the disaster, many left with nothing more than their loved ones and the clothes on their back. Evacuees are now seeking shelter in large common areas in the safe-zones allocated in cities nearby.

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