Some 40,000 people have taken refuge in shelters since the volcano let loose a towering burst of ash and jets of lava on Sunday.
READ: 40,000 people bear brunt of Taal eruption
Police subsequently set up no-go zones and mandatory evacuations in at-risk towns around Taal, which is about 65 kilometers south of Manila.
But days later locals are losing patience and demanding access, even as the nation’s seismological agency warns the volcano could unleash a more powerful eruption at any time.
Cavite became the second province after Batangas to declare a state of calamity following the eruption as ash continued to blanket homes and farms, including its famed coffee and pineapple plantations.
In a radio interview, Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla said the provincial board passed Resolution No. 1389-2020 on Wednesday to allow the local government to tap its calamity funds.
One of the “bakwits” or evacuees, Melvin Casilao, said he and his neighbors in the town of Talisay need to feed their livestock, remove the thick ash from their roofs and pull their boats from the water.
Their community is on the shore of a vast lake that rings Taal, a popular tourist attraction despite being one of the nation’s most active volcanoes.
“We want to visit our houses and clean the roofs. They are smothered in thick ash and they could collapse,” Casilao said.
“We left everything apart from what we’re wearing,” said Robert Cadiz, a 47-year-old fisherman among some 30,000 who took refuge in shelters. “We were terrified.”
Gerald Aseoche, 30, who left with his four young children and a few possessions, has missed work to stay with them as the volcano belches out lava, and earthquakes tied to the eruption rattle the region.
“I am hoping this won’t go on too long because I will lose my job if I can’t report to work immediately,” Aseoche, a house painter, told AFP at an evacuation center.
Soldiers have been deployed at checkpoints in some areas, including Talisay, with police officer Sarah Jane Saballa saying: “It’s for the safety of the residents.”
People around Taal had to leave at a moment’s notice, so many fled with just the clothes on their back.
More than 4,000 schools across much of Luzon were closed, halting education for 5.2-million children, the Department of Education said. And almost 40,000 people from the Taal area were living in 198 evacuation centers with no timetable for going home—and many never will.
“Farmers already lost everything to the ash. They cannot return to the volcano island, so they have to be relocated,” party-list Rep. Lawrence Fortun said.
As the volcano has calmed slightly in the past 24 hours and is spewing less ash, the temptation to return has grown.
Seismologists have noted a string of earthquakes and fissures opening up in roads, indicating magma is still on the move and Taal remains very dangerous.
However, some areas have made concessions, allowing people in for short periods, despite the risks.
“These are residents appealing to us to allow them to feed their pets,” said Gerry Malipon, San Nicolas town police chief.
“But after they’ve fed them, they will have to leave as soon as possible.”
The number of families affected by the volcanic activity continued to climb.
In its 6 a.m. Wednesday update, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that the calamity has so far affected 12,486 families or about 53,000 people.
This was significantly higher than the 10,455 families in its earlier update.
The report was signed and released by NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad.
More than 43,000 people are taking temporary shelter in 217 evacuation centers, it said.
The NDRRMC added that the affected families came from 24 towns and three cities in Batangas, four towns and one city in Cavite, and one town in Laguna.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development and Department of Health have so far provided P4.97 million in assistance to the affected families.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared that no one should live on Taal Volcano island, which is part of the 14-kilometer danger zone identified by authorities after the eruption Sunday afternoon.
The President approved the recommendation of Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña during the situation briefing on Tuesday night attended by Cabinet members and Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed concern that many people might die if the government did not evacuate everyone on the island.
“I strongly believe and recommend that we strictly implement the suggestion or recommendation that Taal island will be declared a no man’s land. Don’t let the people go back. In case there is a more violent explosion, the people there will perish on that island,” Lorenzana said during the briefing.
He later told Palace reporters that Interior Secretary Eduardo Año would carry out the President’s orders in cooperation with local officials of Batangas.
Duterte assured Mandanas that the national government would assist in rebuilding houses destroyed by the eruption.
During the briefing, the President also said he was satisfied with the government response on Taal’s eruption, noting their timely intervention ensured public safety and prevented loss of lives.
The Office of Civil Defense in Calabarzon reported that the first casualty due to Taal eruption was a 65-year-old woman who died of a heart attack while evacuating from Talisay on Monday.
After the briefing, Duterte went to the Batangas Provincial Sports Complex, which houses hundreds of displaced families, and handed over P11 million in livelihood assistance to the farmers and fishermen affected by Taal’s eruption.
The financial assistance extended by the President came from the Department of Agriculture’s budget, according to a press statement from the Palace.
READ: Ashfall destroys P578 million in coffee, other cash crops, livestock and infra
The President also led the ceremonial distribution of family food packs to five families there.
Duterte assured them that the government has the resources to extend help to those in need.
“I am here to help you and all those affected by eruption. And I will do everything so Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, and other provinces will go back to normal,” he said in a speech.
Communities affected by crisis like a typhoon or earthquake must immediately get back to normalcy, he said.
During his visit, he also jested that he wanted to hug all the beautiful leadies in the evacuation center.
“I want to hug all of you but you are so many. Maybe just the pretty girls there,” Duterte said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Duterte also said that people in Taal should make an offering to the deities of volcano to prevent another eruption.
“Maybe you have failed to make some offerings there. You should go there and say a little prayer and offer something. Let’s go by the primitive way of doing it just like what our forefathers would do it. You make some offerings. It was true then but it might be true now,” he said.
Taal Volcano started spewing ash on Sunday, which prompted the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology to raise Alert Level 4 over Taal Volcano, which means a “hazardous eruption is possible within days.”
Over 8,000 families have been evacuated from Batangas and Cavite provinces, NDRRMC’s Jalad said.
PHIVOLCS on Wednesday said it was ready to face a legislative inquiry into its handling of the Taal Volcano eruption, saying its alerts prompted the speedy evacuation of thousands to safer ground.
Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. earlier urged fellow lawmakers to investigate Phivolcs’ monitoring of Taal, claiming that “lack of information” from the agency endangered many residents when the volcano belched a giant ash cloud on Sunday.
“It’s okay if they want to ask questions. But this is the truth: we have long had coordination with the Batangas province to prepare them for the eruption of Taal Volcano,” said PHIVOLCS Director Renato Solidum, talking to radio dzMM in Filipino.
“People evacuated from the Taal island because they monitor information from the Phivolcs and our colleagues assigned to the area.”
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