The people of 12 towns and cities of Batangas started returning Saturday, January 25, to the homes they had been forced to leave when Taal Volcano erupted two weeks earlier, on January 12.
The signal to return was given as soon as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology
(Phivolcs) issued its advisory lowering the alert level from Level 4 to Level 3. The danger zone is now limied to areas within seven kilometers of Taal’s main crater.
At the height of the Alert Level 4 ban, the people of 12 towns and cities were declared part of the danger zone and everyone had to leave their homes and move into some 600 evacuation
centers in Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, and Quezon.
Still banned from returning are those who live in the two towns of Agoncillo and Laurel, as some of their barangays are within the seven-kilometer danger zone. This zone includes the volcano island itself and parts of the surrounding Batangas lakeshore.
The returning residents who crossed the Taal-Lemery boundary at the Pansipit Bridge were reported to be jubilant as they came in jampacked jeepneys, tricycles, and motorcycles. All were naturally eager to go back to the homes they had been forced to leave when the government issued Alert Level 4. Phivolcs said the danger is not totally over, and so the returning evacuees must be ready to leave again if Taal’s activity returns to Alert Level 4.
We hope that Taal Volcano’s activity is truly going down after two weeks of spewing ashes that blanketed wide areas of the surrounding provinces of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, and Quezon,
and as far to the north as Metro Manila and Central Luzon.
In the two weeks that Taal was spewing ashes while magma rose inside it, there was an orderly evacuation. One problem that came up was the abandonment of thousands of farm animals – cows, horses, pigs, goats, along with pet dogs – who had to fend for themselves for days before some volunteers were able to return and help some of them. The experience should induce the government to include arrangements for animals in a massive evacuation such as in Taal.
The Taal eruption should lend support to the move for the establishment of a Department of Disaster Resilience. We have had so many of these natural disasters in recent months – earthquakes, typhoons, floods, volcanic eruptions, and fires. And it seems the whole world is entering a period of natural disasters arising from climate change.
The Phivolcs and other government agencies have done very well in the Taal eruption, along with local governments, but a Department of Disaster Resilience will be able to systematize operations that will minimize deaths and destruction from these increasing natural and man-made disasters.