Taal evacuees hesitate to go home after danger alert goes down

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2020 08:13 AM | Updated as of Jan 27 2020 11:13 AM

Taal Volcano emits white steam around 8 a.m., Jan. 26, 2020. Volcanologists on the same day downgraded Taal's danger alert to 3 from 4. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Tens of thousands who fled to evacuation centers due to the eruption of Taal Volcano earlier this month are hesitant to return home even after authorities downgraded a danger alert, police said Monday. 

Volcanologists on Sunday lowered the alert status of Taal, which sits in a lake south of the capital, to 3 from 4 to indicate a "decreased tendency towards hazardous explosive eruption". 

The volcano recently spawned less quakes and gas emissions, and only its western side remained swollen -- all indications that magma or molten rocks stopped moving toward its crater, said seismology institute Phivolcs director Renato Solidum. 

"Kung sakaling magbabago ang kondisyon ng volcano, puwede nating itaas ang alert level 4," he told radio DZMM. 

"Pero kung patuloy ang pagbaba ng ating mga parametrong tinitingnan, puwede nating ibaba sa alert level 2 ang kondisyon ng volcano," he added. 

(If the volcano's condition changes, we can raise the alert level to 4 again. But if the parameters we are monitoring continue to go down, we can lower the alert to level 2.) 

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Authorities have to monitor Taal for 2 weeks before downgrading the alert to level 2, which means there is a "low level of volcanic unrest," according to the Phivolcs website. 

Told that the danger from Taal had not ceased, "less than 30 percent" of evacuees in Batangas had returned home, said the province's police chief Col. Edwin Quilates. 

"Maraming nag-aagam-agam. Kasama rin kasi sa pagbibigay information namin iyong sinabi ng Phivolcs at PDRRMO (provincial disaster office) na although binalik na ng level 3, ini-inform namin na puwede pa ring mag-upgrade ulit at anytime," Quilates told radio DZMM. 

(Many are still hesitating to go home. This is because we informed them of Phivolcs and PDRRMO's warning that the alert level 3 could be upgraded again at anytime.) 

Batangas' Agoncillo and Laurel towns, where Taal's quakes opened giant cracks on the ground, remained on lockdown. Engineers have to check the safety of buildings before residents are allowed to return, he added. 

Residents from towns and municipalities of Lemery, Laurel and Talisay town in Batangas make their temporary home at the Tagaytay Integrated Elementary school, Jan. 23, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Some 137,000 people were still in evacuation centers as of 6 p.m. Sunday, the disaster agency reported. 
 
About 250 police vehicles, including several trucks, are available for ferrying evacuees back home, said Quilates. 

Taal began spewing clouds of ash on Jan. 12, which reached the capital, forced the cancellation of more than 600 flights, and wrought about P3.35 billion in damage to agriculture and infrastructure, said the disaster agency. 

Just 311 meters high, Taal is one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes. It killed more than 1,300 people in an eruption in 1911. With a report from Reuters