THE Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) yesterday said it is considering downgrading alert “level 4” at Taal Volcano in Batangas because of waning activities.
Seismologists warned that the danger of an eruption remained high as some residents took advantage of what they perceived as a lull in Taal’s activities by returning to their homes within the 14-km danger zone.
Level 4, which was raised late Sunday, means a “hazardous eruption is possible within hours to days.” Alert level 3 means its unrest is “relatively high” and hazardous eruption may be experienced within days or weeks. The highest alert level is 5, which means a hazardous eruption is underway.
Taal was under alert level 1 earlier on Sunday before it started spewing steam and ash.
Mariton Bornas, chief of Phivolcs’ Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division, said the agency is assessing Taal’s seeming calm.
She also said the lake inside Taal has dried up, which was to be expected since it began spewing lava fountains a day after it shot giant clouds of ash miles into the air on Sunday.
Phivolcs said volcanic activity had “generally waned to weak emission of steam-laden plumes 700 meters high that dispersed ash to the southwest.”
Even so, it had recorded at least 100 tremors since Wednesday, meaning magma was still rising.
Bornas said sulfur dioxide emission was measured at 4,186 tons on Wednesday, which is higher than previous day’s mark of 1,600 tons. On Monday, emission was 5,000 tons.
Bornas said they received information that some evacuated residents have gone back to their homes inside the 14-km permanent danger zone amid the “periods of lull.”
She said danger remains at the current alert level which means a hazardous eruption is possible. She said magma intrusion beneath the volcano continues, leading to volcanic earthquakes.
She appealed to the residents to observe the 14-kilometer danger zone while level 4 is still in place.
Phivolcs said it has recorded a total of 566 volcanic quakes since Sunday afternoon when Taal Volcano started becoming restive, of which 103 were recorded from 5 a.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. yesterday.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council warned Batangas residents against returning to their houses inside the 14-kilometer permanent danger zone.
NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad said it is still risky to return to the area because the volcano is still under alert level 4.
Brig. Gen. Marciliano Teofilo, commander of the AFP’s Joint Task Group Taal, earlier said some residents who have been evacuated sneaked back inside the permanent danger zone.
Jalad said, “They should follow the evacuation order until the alert level is not yet lowered.
They should not return while we are still under alert level 4 which is just one level from alert level 5. Alert level 5 is violent explosion,” said Jalad.
As of yesterday, Jalad said 14,918 families or 65,184 persons have been evacuated from the danger zone. The Batangas provincial disaster risk reduction and management office said there were more — 27,312 families or 125,107 persons.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año asked the residents not to risk their lives by forcing their way into the prohibited areas.
Año said the DILG last Monday issued an order for a mandatory evacuation in 199 barangays in 15 towns and cities in Batangas and Cavite, which have been identified as susceptible to ballistic projectiles, base surges, and volcanic tsunami as a result of the eruption of the said volcano.
Among the LGUs with barangays within the 14-km danger zone are Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Laurel, Lemery, Lipa City, Malvar, Mataas na Kahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay and Tanauan City, all in Batangas; and Tagaytay City in Cavite.
Año also of Thursday, evacuation efforts led by the LGUs and supported by the PNP have been undertaken in 179 barangays in Batangas and Cavite, both under a state of calamity, while the rest of the barangays have reported that mandatory evacuation is ongoing and only 10 percent of the residents remain to be evacuated.
DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the PNP has created a perimeter task force and set up checkpoints at all entry points to enforce the lockdown imposed by LGUs in Batangas.
Four towns have been placed on lockdown — Talisay, Taal, San Nicolas, and Agoncillo.
Police, however, said the lockdown was withdrawn on Wednesday night.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the country does not need to seek aid from the international community for now as the government has enough funds for relief and rehabilitation efforts.
However, he said, the Philippines would not reject any offer.
The Manila city government said it will donate P2.5 million to Talisay, Taal, Agoncillo, Lemery, and Laurel towns in Batangas, which it said are the most affected areas.
Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso said the will come from the city’s local disaster risk reduction and management fund.
Other local government units in Metro Manila have sent aid to Batangas.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said his department will provide emergency employment to some 10,000 workers from the 10 worst-hit towns in Batangas — Lemery, Mataas na Kahoy, Agoncillo, Laurel, Talisay, Taal, San Nicolas, Balete, San Jose, and Sta. Teresita.
The Department of Education (DepEd) released a memorandum ordering all public schools to accept student transferees from affected areas.
The schools that will accept those transferees must conduct assessments to meet the needs of a particular student such as additional learning materials, it said.
DepEd also said 167 schools are being used as evacuation centers in the Calabarzon area (Region IV-A) — 148 in Batangas, 16 in Cavite, and three in Laguna.
Power has been restored in some areas in nearby Tagaytay City where business owners were cleaning away the ash and preparing to start trading again.
Although Taal is one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes at only 311 meters high, it can be deadly. One eruption killed more than 1,300 people in 1911.
Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, with the most recent in 1977. The Philippines lies on the “Ring of Fire”, a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes. – With Raymond Africa, Jocelyn Montemayor, Gerard Naval, Noel Talacay, Rod Lagusad, and Reuters