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Taal Volcano / Rappler

Taal danger zone creates 14 ghost towns 

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Fifteen towns around Taal Volcano are now virtual ghost towns after their residents were prohibited from returning while the 14-km danger zone declaration stays.

The municipalities are within the 14-kilometer danger zone set up by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) while authorities wait for the volcano’s activity to either subside or reach critical levels.

Within the danger zone are Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Laurel, Lemery, Lipa City, Malvar, Mataasnakahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay and Tanauan City in Batangas; and Tagaytay City in Cavite.

No one would be allowed inside the zone, and the DILG has created a perimeter task force and set up checkpoints to enforce the lockdown.

DILG spokesman and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said entry to the zone would be severely restricted.

“LGUs may allow, on a case to case basis, access to the high-risk area, but this has to be done in coordination with local disaster officials and is dependent on prevailing conditions,” Malaya said in a statement.

Volcano Island, meanwhile, is completely off limits, he said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) Maritime Group and the Philippine Coast Guard would stop anyone attempting to return to the island, Malaya said.

The police will field an anti-looting task force to patrol the danger zone and to ensure that the residents’ properties were safe.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the areas in danger zone were susceptible to ballistic projectiles, base surges and volcanic tsunami.

“We do not want to leave anything to chance,” Año said.

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), 213 villages in Batangas are susceptible to base surges, while 28 villages in Cavite are exposed to ballistic projectiles.

Also, 124 villages in Cavite and eight in Laguna can experience volcanic tsunami.

On standby for deployment are 2,000 policemen under the PNP Reactionary Support Force, Officer in Charge Lt. Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa said.

Also on standby are 2,500 policemen from the National Capital Region Police Office were alerted, Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas said.

Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division head Ma. Antonia Bornas told a press briefing that the situation in Taal “is quite tricky because the volcano became quiet but the parameters remained the same.”

Bornas said the lull in volcanic activity could be “either a good or bad thing.”
“If this [lull] continues, we can stand down,” she said.

She added that the volume of sulfur dioxide was high, an indication that magma was still making its way to the surface.

Taal emitted 4,186 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions Thursday, higher than on Wednesday but slightly lower than Sunday’s, the agency said.

Alert Level 4 remains in effect at Taal, which means a hazardous explosive eruption is possible in days.

On Thursday, no new additional fissures were mapped. Existing ones are in the identified villages of Lemery, Agoncillo, Talisay and San Nicolas in Batangas.

The lake water receded in Talisay, Laurel, Alitagtag and Lemery.

Evacuation centers have become overcrowded as the strict lockdown was enforced.

One volunteer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the evacuation center at the Batangas Provincial Sports Complex was packed with residents from towns and cities affected by the ash released by the volcano.

Another volunteer said several families from Lemery arrived at the sports complex on Wednesday night.

But due to the limited capacity, the families, at least 10 of them, had to be brought to another evacuation center.

Roads and bridges are passable except for Tagaytay-Taal Lake Road and Tagaytay-Talisay Road.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has recorded a total of 12,977 families or 57,286 persons who evacuated from several towns affected by Taal Volcano’s unrest.

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