More than half of Taal evacuees now back home

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    MORE than half of some 111,000 residents displaced by the restiveness of Taal Volcano in Batangas have returned to their homes, the Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said yesterday.

    The evacuees started to go back to their homes on Sunday after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) lowered the alert at Taal to level 3 from level 4 because of a reduced threat of hazardous eruption. Phivolcs also reduced the danger zone to seven from 14 kilometers, paving the way for the return of most of the evacuees.

    Level 4 was raised on January 12 after Taal spewed steam and ash which reached Metro Manila.

    Authorities are aiming to clear schools of evacuees before the resumption of classes on Monday.

    The Philippine Coast Guard, meanwhile, put up buoys around Taal Lake to prevent the entry of boats to Volcano Island.

    “It serves a marker to warn the (residents) they are not allowed inside,” said PCG spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo.

    The PDRRMO said that from a high of 111,747 families or 415,731 persons, the number of displaced residents is down to 69,586 families or 253,800 persons as of 11 a.m. yesterday,
    The office also said 20,200 families or 72,236 persons of those still displaced are housed in 402 evacuation centers. The rest are staying with their relatives.

    PDRRO chief Lito Castro said those who have yet to return are from the seven-kilometer permanent danger zone. “They are from Taal Island (Volcano Island) and have no house to return to or they are from areas still under lockdown,” he said.

    “Also, there are those whose houses (outside the seven-kilometer danger zone) were destroyed. Many are still cleaning their houses. That’s why their families are still in evacuation centers. Their houses are still not in the condition to accommodate them,” Castro also said.

    On clearing schools being used as evacuation centers, Castro said the evacuees will be transferred to evacuation centers in Ibaan town and at the provincial sports complex in Batangas City.

    Castro said there are no major problems so far in the evacuation centers, except for some cases of fever and cold, which he said are being addressed by health officials.

    Phivolcs, in a bulletin issued at 8 a.m., said Taal Volcano’s activity in the past 24-hour monitoring period was characterized by “weak to voluminous” emission of steam-laden plumes that are 100 to 800 meters in high, drifting southwest.

    “Sulfur emission was below instrumental detection,” it also said.

    Phivolcs said only three volcanic earthquakes were recorded by the Philippine Seismic Network from 5 a.m. Monday to 5 a.m. yesterday.

    It said the Taal Volcano Network, which can record smaller quakes not detectable by PSN, plotted only 92 volcanic quakes. The volcanic activity indicates magmatic activity underneath the volcano that could lead to eruptive activity at the main crater.