An explosive eruption of the Taal Volcano no longer appears imminent, authorities said Sunday as they lifted most of a mass evacuation order but warned residents to remain ready to flee.
READ: Phivolcs sees lesser chance of eruption
Warning signs like earthquakes have been steadily waning since Taal burst to life two weeks ago with plumes of ash and lava, forcing over 135,000 people into shelters over fears a massive blast was coming.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said steadily shrinking ash and gas emissions were signs of “decreased tendency towards hazardous explosive eruption,” leading them to drop the alert by a notch, to Alert Level 3.
The immediate impact of the reduced warning was the lifting of the evacuation order for nearly all the towns that ring the volcano, a tourist attraction that sits in the middle of a lake.
“Residents of all towns under lockdown except Agoncillo and Laurel now have the option to return,” Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas told a press conference.
READ: 14 towns in risk zone lock down
“There’s a possibility that the volcano may still erupt and we should still be ready to evacuate in one hour.”
No one is known to have died in the eruption, but the ash it unleashed forced the brief closure of the capital’s main international airport, stranding tens of thousands of travelers.
The volcano shot ash 15 kilometers high and spewed lava in the Jan. 12 eruption, which crushed scores of homes and killed livestock as well as crops.
However, seismologists warned the volcano could unleash a much bigger eruption “within hours to days”, posing a deadly risk to anyone in a 14-kilometer radius danger zone.
The volcano island is still under evacuation orders, and the thousands who lived there will not be allowed to return, the government has said.
Taal, located just 60 kilometers from Manila, is one of the most active volcanoes in a country.
Its last eruption was in 1977, but it has a long history of activity.
In 1965, a Taal eruption killed some 200 people.
Despite the risks that the volcano erupt could again erupt, many residents were eager to return home.
“That’s where we were born, including my ancestors... so we are determined to go back,” said Ronald Humarang, a 32-year-old factory worker.
“I am not really afraid (of an explosion) because during the initial eruption, we didn’t evacuate our house immediately,” he said.
In its 8 a.m. bulletin Sunday, Phivolcs cited a decline in volcanic earthquakes, slower ground deformation in volcano island and the volcano’s caldera, and weak steam and gas emissions at its main crater.
Despite the lower alert level, Phivolcs warned that “this should not be interpreted that the unrest has ceased or that the threat of hazardous eruption has disappeared.”
Phivolcs noted “diminished to infrequent weak ash eruptions and longer episodes of degassing or steaming in the Taal main crater that generated steam-laden plumes less than one kilometer tall.”
Sulfur dioxide flux also decreased from 5,300 tons a day on Jan. 13 to 140 tons a day on Jan. 22.
READ: Taal spews 409 more tons of Sulfur Dioxide
Phivolcs still advised concerned local governments to “assess areas outside the seven-kilometer radius for damage and road accessibilities” as well as to “strengthen preparedness... in case of renewed unrest.”
The Palace on Sunday said it was pleased that state seismologists have lowered down the alert level of Taal Volcano into 3, adding that the national government would still prepare for dangers that might arise.
In related developments:
• Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez on Sunday urged officials of the national agencies and local government units to ensure that special care and attention are given to children affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano in Batangas. “I wish to remind my co-workers in government on the existence of this law mandating special protection to children before, during and after disasters. They need to comply with the provisions of Republic Act No. 10821 in attending to needs of the children affected by the Taal eruption,” she said.
• Senator Christopher Lawrence Go urged affected residents of Agoncillo and Laurel to continue heeding the lockdown in other Batangas towns to ensure their safety and protection. He also appealed to residents to respect the advisories of Phivolcs, which has come under attack by some politicians.
• Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto on Sunday batted for the creation of a Taal Commission to oversee the relief, rehabilitation and assistance to affected communities, saying the P30 billion supplemental budget requested by President Rodrigo Duterte and the calamity funds for victims of the eruptions of Taal Volcano are not enough to meet their needs. Santos said it would take at least four years before the lives of those affected could go back to normal. With MJ Blancaflor, Macon Ramos-Araneta, AFP, and PNAREAD: Rody assures victims P30-billion will be made available to themREAD: 40,000 people bear brunt of Taal eruptionREAD: Taal rumbles anew; no power, fuel in some areas
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