Taal alert level lowered; lockdown order partially lifted | Inquirer News

Taal alert level lowered; lockdown order partially lifted

/ 04:57 AM January 27, 2020

GOING HOME Residents of Lemery town in Batangas province who fled Taal Volcano’s eruption two weeks ago ride back to their homes after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology lowered the alert level to 3 from 4 on Sunday. —AFP

MANILA, Philippines — Volcanologists on Sunday lo­wered the alert status of restive Taal Volcano to 3 from 4 to indicate a “decreased tendency toward a hazardous explosive eruption,” enabling local authorities to give the go-signal for some of nearly a million evacuees to return to their homes, two weeks after they fled their towns when the country’s second most active volcano suddenly came to life.

The country’s seismological agency also narrowed the exclusion zone around Taal from 14 kilometers to 7 km, but warned that lowering the danger level “should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased.”


“There is a lingering threat … Based on its history, it could enter a period of lull then erupt,” Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), told reporters.


He added that the volcano was primed with new magma.


Phivolcs recommended that Volcano Island and areas west of the main crater within the 7-km exclusion zone be kept off-limits.

Solidum said it was up to local authorities to decide which towns to reopen, after a weeklong lockdown that saw police and soldiers struggling to keep residents from going back to their homes within the 14-km exclusion zone.

Phivolcs also advised local governments to assess areas outside the new, 7-km exclusion zone for damage, as earthquakes had been reported to have opened up fissures in the ground at the height of Taal’s activity.

Residents of areas near river channels that have been covered by ash should be alert for lahar flows when it rains, Phivolcs said.

Lahar is a rapidly flowing mix of volcanic materials and water.


One of the world’s smallest volcanoes, Taal suddenly belched towering plumes of ash and steam on Jan. 12, sending close to 1 million residents of 12 towns and two cities in the region to flee their homes and seek shelter in more than 400 evacuation centers in Batangas, Cavite and Laguna provinces.

In recent days, however, Taal’s activity “generally declined,” and precursors of a big blast also decreased.

Solidum, however, said that should there be a pronounced change in the precursors that point to a potential hazardous explosive eruption, Phivolcs would again raise the alert to 4.

Two-week observation

But if the downtrend continued for two weeks—the standard observation period for volcanoes—Phivolcs may lower the alert to 2, he said.

Malacañang spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Sunday said the government would maintain disaster preparations despite the lowering of the danger level at Taal.

“The government won’t lie low. We’re always on our toes when it comes to dangers. We’re always prepared,” Panelo said in a radio interview.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said only residents of areas outside the 7-km exclusion zone would be allowed to return to their homes.

Ricardo Jalad, the council’s executive director, said police, military, and fire protection personnel were assessing the damage to those areas to see if it was safe for residents to return.

But Brig. Gen. Marceliano Teofilo, commander of the military task force that handled the Taal crisis, said some evacuees started to return to their homes on Sunday.

“We expect the displaced to return in droves so we were instructed by the governor to limit the return of evacuees and make it by phasing so they would not be bringing along kids or the sick right away,” Teofilo said.

Two towns remain closed

Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas told a news briefing that the lockdown order for all towns and cities in the Taal region, except for Agoncillo and Laurel, had been lifted.

He said close to 1 million evacuees would be allowed to return to their homes.

But he gave them a warning: “They should be ready anytime to evacuate within an hour should the alert level heighten again.”

Agoncillo, Laurel and villages closer to Tagaytay City are at risk from lahar flow when it rains, Mandanas said. About 30 million tons of ash may have been deposited by the volcano in those areas, he added.

“[People] may decide if they want to return [to their homes. But] I would like to emphasize that the decision is theirs,” Mandanas said.

Later, however, Mandanas said the decision whether to allow residents to return home had been given to the mayors.

As of 3 p.m. on Sunday, more than 30,000 evacuees had gone home, Col. Edwin Quilates, the Batangas police chief, said.

Security forces remained to keep order in the streets and prevent entry into the places that remained on lockdown.

Classes at schools in Tagaytay City were set to resume on Monday, but in Batangas, Mandanas said classes in primary and secondary schools remained suspended “until further notice” to allow remaining evacuees to move into tent cities and school officials to inspect schoolbuil­dings for damage.

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Mandanas said evacuation centers across Batangas would remain open as the areas ra­vaged by Taal’s eruption needed rehabilitation before residents could be allowed to return.

He said the province had made budgetary realignments to increase its calamity fund to P300 million from P30 million to include the feeding and assistance centers in the villages and the relocation of residents from the danger zones. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARICAR CINCO, KIMMY BARAOIDAN, JULIE M. AURELIO, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, AFP  INQ

TAGS: Batangas, disaster, Local news, Nation, national news, News, Philippine news updates, Taal, Taal eruption, Taal Volcano

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