TAGAYTAY CITY—As Taal Volcano continued to show signs of restiveness, the city government on Friday scrapped plans for a grand celebration of the Chinese New Year and instead came up with evacuation plans and routes for residents in case of an alert level 5 eruption.
Taal Volcano continued to emit smoke all day long on Friday. But that did not stop spectators from flocking to Tagaytay ridge, which offered a clear, open view of the restive volcano amid the uncertainty of alert level 4.
The second-highest warning of volcanic hazards remains in effect, as deemed by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs)—which means a violent eruption might occur anytime. At a press conference in Tagaytay City on Friday, city disaster response chief Clyde Yayong said Tagaytay, a top tourist destination, was still sheltering close to 6,000 evacuees from various Batangas towns within the 14-kilometer radius danger zone.
Within the city, 146 families (540 people) were evacuated from Bagong Tubig and Sambong, as these villages were closest to the hazard area at risk of a base surge.
At least 116 establishments, among them restaurants and lodges, had reopened since the city government announced that only some villages, and not the entire city, were in danger. Other establishments, however, remained closed or operated only for limited periods, as a considerable part of the city—particularly the villages of Iruhin, San Jose and Tolentino—was still affected by volcanic ash.
The city’s tourism council made plans to hold a grand celebration of the Chinese New Year on Saturday, to signify the return of Tagaytay’s normally brisk tourist activity.
But Yayong said this might not push through, with many hotels and restaurants “still busy cleaning up.”
He said tourist arrivals remained down since the Jan. 12 eruption.
Yet on Friday, people from the lodges and restaurants that were open took photos and videos of Taal Volcano.
A couple from Imus City, Cavite, pulled over at Mendez Crossing to take pictures of the volcano. They were on their way to check out a property in Tagaytay City.
“We come here often but it’s our first time to see [the volcano] this way,” one of them said.
A group of Chinese tourists with their children also stopped over to watch the volcano. On the ridge later that afternoon were vendors selling coconut pie and packs of dried fish.
Magma still rising
Updating reporters in Manila, Mariton Bornas, head of Phivolcs’ Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division, reiterated that the smoke from Taal still indicated magma rising.
“Steam from the volcano slightly subsided in the past few days. It’s possible that the vents were just blocked, and now that the steam is more intense, the blockage might have been removed,” Bornas said at a press conference on Friday.
In its bulletin that morning, Phivolcs said there was weak to moderate smoke 50 to 500 meters high and drifting southwest.Village officials over the past days had been making rounds, telling residents where to go in case of an eruption.
The city identified rendezvous points, like a gasoline station in the city’s rotonda, where villagers would be picked up and brought to safety in General Trias City in Cavite.Yayong said they allowed Tagaytay residents to return to the affected villages but only from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., to check their homes or feed farm animals.
In Batangas City and Bauan town on Wednesday, Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) led the distribution of 10,000 packs of relief goods and 10,000 boxes of “tikoy,” the popular sticky cake sold especially during the Chinese New Year. The group also served 10,000 bowls of “champorado” (chocolate rice porridge).
Wilson Lee Flores, who heads FFCCCII’s media committee, said giving tikoy is believed to bring good luck to both the giver and the receiver.
“It’s a more meaningful way of celebrating the Chinese New Year,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM MICHAEL JAUCIAN AND PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU