Philippines Vacates Towns Even as Volcanic Eruption Wanes

By Ditas Lopez and Andreo Calonzo | January 16, 2020

The Philippines is compelling residents of 12 towns and two cities near the restive Taal Volcano to move to safer ground, even as the intensity of the eruption has weakened.

Forced evacuations have been enforced in areas prone to a tsunami and a surge of gas and rock fragments if the volcano 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of the capital Manila erupts violently, disaster management agency chief Ricardo Jalad said Wednesday night.

Two people have died and more than 121,000 people have fled to safety since Sunday, but poor visibility and slippery roads due to volcanic ash are hampering evacuation efforts, the military said Thursday.

The evacuations were done even as volcanic activity over the past eight hours “has been generally characterized by weak emission of steam-laden plumes 800 meters high from the main crater that drifted to the general southwest,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said in an 5:00 p.m. bulletin. Nine weak explosions and more tremors were also recorded by the agency.

The second-highest alert in a five-step warning system remains in effect, suggesting hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours or days.

The nearby Cavite province has been placed under a state of emergency, joining Batangas province, which was given that status earlier this week to enable it to immediately disburse funds.

Taal Volcano, which lies in the middle of a lake, is a tourist attraction and is among the nation’s most active and deadly volcanoes.

Portions of Pansipit River, the sole drainage outlet of Taal Lake, have dried up. Satellite images also showed the main crater lake has been drained and new vent craters have been formed inside the main crater, according to the Batangas disaster management office.

Hotels Shut

Hotels owned by JG Summit Holdings Inc., Megaworld Corp. and and SM Prime Holdings Inc. in the tourist city of Tagaytay near the volcano announced temporary closures in response to warnings of a possible explosive eruption.

Businesses in several villages in Tagaytay that opt to resume operations will have to sign a waiver that says they’ve been briefed of the hazards, the city’s disaster risk management office said in a Facebook post.

The government will loan an initial 50 million pesos ($984,000) to small businesses affected by the eruption, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters Thursday, adding that his agency is guarding against price spikes.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered that no one be allowed to return and permanently reside on the island where the volcano is located in the near future. The government has “more than enough funds” to support affected localities, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said.

About the photo: Taal volcano continues to spew ash as seen from Tagaytay, Cavite province, southern Philippines on Wednesday. So far no one has been reported killed in the eruption, but the disaster is spotlighting the longstanding dilemma of how the government can move settlements away from danger zones threatened by volcanoes, landslides, floods and typhoons in one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

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