COVID-19 threat adds to predicament of weary Taal Volcano evacuees

Published July 2, 2021, 8:18 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The threat posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has become an additional burden to thousands of people in Batangas who fled their homes following the phreatomagmatic (magma and steam-driven) eruption of Taal Volcano.

Residents of Laurel, Batangas seek temporary shelter at Ticub Elementary School following a phreatomagmatic eruption of Taal Volcano on Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Ali Vicoy/ MANILA BULLETIN)

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Executive Director Ricardo Jalad said Friday night, July 2, that they have already coordinated with the Department of Health (DOH) to send swab test and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kits to Batangas as a way to ensure the safety of evacuees staying at temporary shelters.

The NDRRMC has also requested the DOH, Calabarzon Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (RDRRMO-4A), and other concerned government agencies to provide additional N95 masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) sets, and medicines, among others, to Batangas folk who might need them.

“All hands on deck naman dito simula sa RDRRMO Calabarzon. Bago pa lang nagkaroon ng Alert Level 3, nagkaroon na sila ng coordination meetings at contingency planning (All hands are on deck including the RDRRMO Calabarzon. Even before Alert Level 3 was raised, they already conducted coordination meetings and contingency planning),” Jalad said in a virtual press briefing.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised Alert Level 3 over Taal Volcano after it recorded four short phreatomagmatic eruptions on Thursday, July 1.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, a total of 376 families or 1,495 individuals were evacuated in Batangas. Most of them are now staying at the 12 evacuation centers located in the province.

The affected areas include Poblacion, and Sinturisan in San Nicolas; Gulod, Buso Buso, Bugaan West, and Bugaan East in Laurel; Subic Ilaya, Banyaga, and Bilibinwang in Agoncillo; Apacay, Taal; Luyos and Boot in Tanauan City; and San Sebastian, Balete.

Jalad assured the public that local government units (LGUs) and local disaster management officials had been instructed to strictly implement minimum public health standards in evacuation centers.

The NDRRMC chief also revealed that the DOH was planning to conduct a mass vaccination of evacuees against COVID-19 to protect them from the deadly disease.

“We will see in the next few days kung ano ang magiging progress niya (what the progress will be),” he said.

He bared that evacuees may be allowed to go back to their homes once Phivolcs brings down Taal Volcano’s situation to Alert Level 2.

“Depende ‘yan sa Phivolcs. Kung ibaba nila sa Alert Level 2, ‘yan ang magiging trigger natin (It depends on the Phivolcs. If ever they bring it down to Alert Level 2, that will be our trigger),” Jalad said.

However, he urged the public to be vigilant as a more intense eruption is likely to occur in the coming days.