BATANGAS, Philippines, January 27 ------ Evacuees, some of whom had waited as early as the crack of dawn for an end to the lockdown, rushed back to their homes yesterday after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) lowered the alert level of Taal Volcano from 4 to 3 in 10 towns and two cities. While the lockdown was lifted as the possibility of a hazardous eruption had declined, authorities stressed that Taal’s “unrest has not ceased.” Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas allowed residents of most of the towns to return to their homes.
“Residents of all towns under lockdown except Agoncillo and Laurel now have the option to return to their respective residences or places of work,” Mandanas said in a televised news briefing in Batangas. The lockdown was lifted in Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Lemery, Lipa City, Malvar, Mataasnakahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay and Tanauan City. Taal Volcano Island remains on permanent lockdown after a seven-kilometer-radius danger zone was declared, im, from the previous 14-km radius. Mandanas however clarified that he is just following the directive of the Phivolcs when opening the lockdown areas. He leaves the final decision on the implementation to local government officials. He said that the mayors have the prerogative to allow their constituents to go inside their barangays based on their area assessment.
In Lemery, hundreds of residents onboard vehicles rushed to the town after local police allowed them entry past 9 a.m. One of them, Annabel Enriquez, said they had been waiting at the checkpoint since 4 a.m. “We will clean our home,” she said. Agoncillo Mayor Daniel Reyes, whose town is still on lockdown, said he will abide by the governor’s directive. Talisay Mayor Gerry Natanauan expressed his delight on the lifting of the lockdown order, saying in Filipino, “I am happy because our citizens can now go home to clean up and feed their animals.” Tanauan Mayor Angeline Halili said, “We can breathe easy now, because I know our citizens will be happy to be able to go back home. I have requested that electricity and water be returned to areas formerly included in the lockdown.”
Halili, however, said they are still monitoring the situation of one of their barangays, Maria Paz, within the seven-kilometer danger zone. News of the lowered alert level came from a press conference held at the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council operation center in Batangas City, where Phivolcs resident volcanologist Paolo Reniva read the two-page Department of Science and Technology-Phivolcs notice, to the delight of mayors and other officials in the meeting. “Taal Volcano’s condition in the two weeks following the January 12, 2020 phreatomagmatic eruption has generally declined into less frequent volcanic earthquake activity, decelerated ground deformation of the Taal Caldera and Taal Volcano Island edifices and weak steam/gas emissions at the main crater,” the notice said.
“Alert Level 3 means that there is a decreased tendency towards hazardous explosive eruption but should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased or that the threat of a hazardous eruption has disappeared,” the agency added. If an uptrend or pronounced changes in monitored parameters forewarn a potential hazardous explosive eruption, Phivolcs said the alert might be raised back to level 4.