DESPITE an apparent lull in volcanic activities, the danger of an explosive eruption of Taal Volcano in Batangas remains, and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reiterated a warning to residents and evacuees against entering the 14-kilometer permanent danger zone.
Taal’s rumblings have displaced some 100,000 residents.
The alert at Taal Volcano rose to level 4 from level 1 in just a few hours on January 12 when the volcano started spewing ash and steam. About three days later, Taal appeared to be calming down but seismologists said the danger of an eruption remained high.
Level 4 means a hazardous explosion is possible within hours or days. The highest alert, level 5, means a hazardous eruption is underway.
The Batangas government said classes in all levels in both public and private schools in the entire province will remain suspended as long as alert level 4 is in effect.
Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas the decision was based on the recommendation of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
The province is under a state of calamity.
Mariton Bornas, chief of Phivolcs’ Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division, said while there is a downtrend in Taal’s activities in the past days, the risk of hazardous eruption still exists.
Bornas said the Philippine Seismic Network has recorded 691 quakes since January 12 up to 5 a.m. yesterday. Only 25 of those were plotted from 5 a.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday, seven less than the previous 24-hour monitoring period.
In its 8 a.m. bulletin, Phivolcs said Taal’s activity at the main crater in the past 24 hours “has been characterized by steady steam emission and infrequent weak explosions that generated white to dirty white ash plumes 500 to 1,000 meters tall and dispersed ash southwest of the main crater.”
Nevertheless, it said, the Taal Volcano Network recorded 787 quakes over the past 24 hours, which means a continued movement of magma underneath the volcano.
The Taal Volcano Network records the smaller earthquakes.
Phivolcs said, “Such intense seismic activity likely signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity.”
Bornas also said the agency recorded sulfur dioxide emission of 1,442 tons, slightly higher than the previous day. Sulfur dioxide signifies the upward movement of magma to the surface.
“It’s possible we’re having lull and then we’ll have a hazardous explosion so we cannot actually relax yet. There is still the possibility of (hazardous) eruption,” said Bornas.
Bornas said it was also possible that the “eruption has actually died down.”
On reports that some local officials have allowed their constituents to briefly return to their houses within the 14-km danger zone to check on their property, Bornas said the risk area should remain off limits.
“We stand firm on our recommendation that all people inside the defined danger should be evacuated and no one should be allowed to enter,” said Bornas.
Bornas said the Phivolcs stand is based on scientific data.
“But the LGUs on the ground, they have a lot of factors to consider in coming up with decisions, the scientific data, the concerns of their constituents, economic reasons and others. So it’s a very complex decision; that is their decision,” she said.
Agencies have been issuing conflicting figures as to the number of residents so far evacuated.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council placed the figure at 22,472 families or 96,061 persons as of yesterday noon.
The Batangas provincial disaster risk reduction and management office said there were 33,103 families or 134,376 persons evacuated as of 5 a.m. yesterday.
The figure of the Office of Civil Defense-Calabarzon is 41,156 families or 162,243 persons evacuated in Batangas and in nearby provinces of Cavite, Laguna and Quezon.
The Department of Labor and Employment warned evacuees against illegal recruiters
“Those in evacuation centers right now are really easy prey because they will grab everything they think can alleviate their situation,” said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
Hundreds of people who have fled their homes near Taal attended Sunday Mass at a temporary shelter in nearby Tagaytay City, praying for safety amid fears of a violent eruption.
Some residents danced and brought wooden replicas of the Infant Jesus, locally known as “Santo Niño,” to celebrate the feast of the Holy Child. Many worshippers in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation believe the statues can grant miracles.
“We prayed that we can rise up, put a stop to this calamity to allow us to return to our homes,” said 44-year-old evacuee Annie Villanueva. “A lot of families like us want to be together in our own homes and stand up.”
“We feel afraid, especially for our families because we don’t know our fate, if we will be safe,” Villanueva said. – With Rod Lagusad, Gerard Naval and Reuters