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‘Windows’ in risk zone shut

‘Recharging’ Taal hints of strong blast

Authorities ordered a crackdown Monday on evacuees’ daily visits to their homes in the danger zone around Taal Volcano as scientists warned it could be “recharging” for a more powerful explosion.

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‘Windows’ in risk zone shut
TAAL FROM THE AIR. An aerial view of Taal Volcano, which erupted recently, on Monday shows its cracked northeastern rim. Authorities warned that magma continues to deform the island, its movement resulting in an ‘uplift’ of the volcano, and could be an indication of a possible explosive eruption. AFP
Those warnings come as the northeastern part of the volcano island has sunk, while the volcano itself has swelled.

More than 110,000 people have taken refuge in evacuation centers since Taal burst to life a week ago, but many hard-hit towns have let residents back for hours each day to fetch items, feed livestock and clean up their houses.

“We are directing DRRMCs (civil defense officers)... not to allow anyone to enter the danger zone,” said Epimaco Densing, undersecretary for the Department of the Interior and Local Government. 

“It’s dangerous, that’s why we have imposed a lockdown,” he told reporters.

The volcano shot ash 15 kilometers high in the Jan. 12 eruption, which crushed scores of homes and killed livestock as well as crops.

READ: Ashfall destroys P578 million in coffee, other cash crops, livestock and infra

However, seismologists have warned the volcano could imminently unleash a much bigger eruption, posing a deadly risk to anyone in the 14-kilometer radius “danger zone” that surrounds it.

Continued earthquakes and an increase in the volcano’s emission of sulfur dioxide gas were possible indications of a “recharge” of magna, which would drive a major blast, a top scientist said.

“We consider these are signs that there’s a re-supply of magma which could possibly... cause an eruption that could be strong,” Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told a local radio station.

Until experts deem the threat has passed, evacuees will need the shelters spread across some 400 sites that range from school campuses to covered basketball courts.

Conditions vary between sites, but several evacuees said they were getting food and a place to sleep, but that bathrooms were in high demand.

“It’s really difficult to take a bath or use the toilet because of the sheer numbers (of evacuees), but we can take it,” said Sonia Awitan, 55.

“What is important is we have a place to shelter and sleep in,” she added.

Authorities say they have so far been able to provide fundamental services to the evacuees, but are concerned about the longer term.

“We can handle the [current evacuee numbers]. The issue is how are we going to sustain resources over the longer term,” Alex Masiglat, spokesman for disaster relief in the ground zero Calabarzon region said.

“Our concern is how are we going to sustain a long-term evacuation period,” he added.

Though no people have been reported killed in the eruption, it has wrought havoc on agriculture and tourism.

Taal is set in the middle of a picturesque lake that is a popular draw for tourists, especially since it is just 60 kilometers south of the hot and crowded capital Manila.

PHIVOLCS on Monday said magma continues to deform Taal Volcano island, a sign of a possible explosive eruption.

In their updates Sunday, PHIVOLCS issued an Eruption Update on Taal Volcano, with an Alert Level 4, “Hazardous Eruption Imminent” at 6 p.m. Sunday.

“Definitely there is magma rising,” Solidum said Monday.

Since 8:00 a.m., Sunday, Taal Volcano’s activity has been generally characterized by weak emission of steam-laden plumes 300 to 500 meters high from the main crater that drifted to the general southwest.

The Philippine Seismic Network plotted a total of 701 volcanic earthquakes since 1:00 p.m., Jan. 12, 2020.

A total of 176 of these were felt with intensities ranging from Intensity I to V.

Since 5:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sunday, there were 10 volcanic earthquakes plotted, including one felt event with Intensity I.

The Taal Volcano Network, which can record small earthquakes undetectable by the PSN, recorded 24 volcanic earthquakes including three low-frequency quakes.

The intense seismic activity likely signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity, PHIVOLCS said. Latest sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission was measured at an average of 4,353 tons a day Sunday at 5 p.m., which was higher than the 1,442 tons emitted from 5 a.m. Jan. 18 to 5 a.m. Jan. 19.

“If the sulfur dioxide is higher, it means there’s magma going up,” Solidum said.

From 5 a.m. Sunday until 5 a.m. Monday, PHIVOLCS recorded 23 volcanic earthquakes, with magnitudes 1.2 to 3.8.

Solidum said the magnitude 4.6 quake that hit Mabini, Batangas on Sunday night was caused by fault movements. This fault started moving during the April 2017 series of earthquakes, he added.

“We would study whether this (magnitude 4.6) earthquake has an effect on the volcano and vice versa. But for now, since there was fault movement, definitely magma would be pushed upward,” Solidum said.

In related developments:

• The House of Representatives has decided to hold a session at Batangas City Convention Center to have first-hand knowledge of the situation and listen to the complaints of affected residents. Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano made the announcement in a privilege speech Monday at the resumption of session Monday. Cayetano urged his colleagues to help find solutions to address the effects of disasters and calamities.

• The mayor of Agoncillo, Batangas, told his constituents that their lives were more important than their possessions. Mayor Daniel Reyes was reacting to pleas from residents to be allowed to return to their homes to retrieve their belongings and feed their livestock.

• Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas directed town mayors to cancel “window hours” that previously allowed residents to check their homes from which they evacuated due to the eruption of Taal Volcano. The chief of the provincial disaster office, Lito Castro, said the practice was too dangerous. “We don’t have parameters or a time frame on when Taal will erupt; that’s like an earthquake, we don’t know when it will strike,” he said in Filipino.

• The vice mayor of Talisay, Batangas appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte Monday to allow his constituents to return home even as state seismologists warned that a hazardous Taal Volcano eruption is still possible. In an interview on radio dzMM, Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan also criticized chief seismologist Renato Solidum over the volcano alert warnings, saying the head seismologist should change his “opinion” about Taal’s activity. “No one in this world, including any scientists, could ever predict when a volcano could erupt,” he said. “Why is he saying (about a possible eruption), is he God?” he asked.

‘Windows’ in risk zone shut
TAAL FROM THE AIR. Fishermen haul a boat from the water as they repair their vessels affected by the eruption. AFP
• Batangas Vice Gov. Mark Leviste warned those who would return to “high-risk” zones near the volcano could face charges of violation of the disaster management law. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Maricel V. Cruz, AFP, and PNA

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Topics: danger zone , Taal Volcano , powerful explosion , Rodrigo Duterte
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