Perilous and uncertain times

"I will not be surprised if the losses and damages to Batangas particularly would add up to tens of billions."



News that the Taal Volcano is spewing thick white smoke broke as I write this. Since it erupted on Jan. 12, life has been very uncertain for people residing in areas affected in Batangas and Cavite. Alert level 4 is still raised and the volcano may erupt explosively any hour or day.

More than 71,717 families, or over 282,000 people are affected according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council. The 39,052 families or 148,987 people are in various evacuation centers and 90,017 are outside, staying with friends and families.

Within the 14-kilometer danger zone are: Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Laurel, Lemery, the lakeside areas of Lipa City, Malvar, Mataas na Kahoy, San Jose, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay, Tanauan City, and Tagaytay City.

Moreover, these areas are within the 17-kilometer danger zone: Balayan, Bauan, Calaca, Lian, Nasugbu, San Luis, Sto. Tomas, and Tuy, in Batangas. In Cavite, Alfonso, Amadeo, Silang Mendez, and Indang are covered; and Calamba City in Laguna.

The estimated cost of agricultural damage due to Taal Volcano’s eruption runs to P3.22 billion. However, Batangas is much more than an agricultural province. It is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Tourism is a major industry and there is no estimate yet of the losses. Batangas also has industries and losses have yet to be determined.

The eruption and ensuing earthquakes also damaged or destroyed homes, roads, and other infrastructure. For instance I saw from a picture that the historic Caysasay church in Taal town sustained what appeared to me as major cracks.

I will not be surprised if the losses and damages to Batangas particularly would add up to tens of billions.

Fourteen towns are on lockdown with 11 towns on total lockdown and three, only partial. Areas that are locked down enforced forced evacuation of all residents. No one is allowed in except for those involved in, or given passes by the local government units. Even these people are not allowed to stay for many hours in the locked down areas. Military and police personnel are quite strict in the implementation of the order.

On total lock down are these areas: Talisay, Agoncillo, San Nicolas, Laurel, Alitagtag, Lemery, Sta. Teresita, Balete, Taal, Cuenca, and Malvar. Additionally, portions of Mataas na Kahoy, Lipa City and Tanauan City are locked down.

As I have written a number of times before, Batangas is dear to me. Particularly, I consider Taal, the Heritage town as my town. Thus, it distresses me (and no doubt others feel the same) whenever my friends who are allowed in say that our beloved Taal now looks like a ghost town. While it was a normally quiet and peaceful town, it was also a tourist destination because of its historicity and heritage homes. Thus, describing it as a ghost town is distressing. Multiply this feeling by hundreds of thousands and dread will surely overcome us.

My family and I are safe in Metro Manila. We are luckier than most of the affected families with nowhere to go but the evacuation centers, or temporarily seek shelter with friends or families without even the bare necessities needed to live as they did. Many of these families are with children, some with infants. A good number of those in evacuation centers are senior citizens. I often imagine their living conditions and I get reminded that my family is a lot better off compared to them.

I was told by some of those staying in these centers that it gets really cold particularly at nights. I know for a fact that the coldest months in these areas are January and February when I enjoyed staying in Taal the most. Very few of them have beddings, blankets, and clothes for cold weather.

A recent update from Tulong Taal Program, the initiative my group coordinates with in terms of relief operations and spearheaded by the Villavicencios and other private citizens of Taal, said that it appears that food is not a problem in most evacuation areas. What are urgently needed are mats, blankets, toiletries and the like.

Worse, Tulong Taal noted that those in schools-turned-evacuation-areas are in danger of being displaced because the schools already need to reopen. These evacuees may possibly be transferred to open areas where they will be exposed to the elements. If this happens, tents, sleeping mats, blankets, even used tarps will be crucial to at least offer them some protection. They have already been miserable, we should not allow our people to get sick.

Since the January 12 eruption, this feeling of uncertainty and dread has not abated. With alert level 4 still up, PHIVOLCS maintains that the Taal Volcano may erupt anytime. Mind you, the eruption they refer to is similar to the ones in 1700s which were really destructive. The threat to life and property is very real.

Every day before I sleep I check the status of the volcano. When I wake up the first thing I do is to check on how it behaved those hours that I was asleep and I repeat this several times during my waking hours. I guess this will continue until such time when things are more certain one way or the other.

However, despite the peril and uncertainty, and because there is nothing that we can do except wait, we better use our time to make life a bit easier for those who literally have nothing now.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Tulong Taal Program , Taal Volcano , PHIVOLCS , National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council

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