Philippines looks for safer homes for volcano residents

TAGAYTAY (AP) — The Philippine government will no longer allow people to live on the crater-studded island that’s home to the erupting Taal volcano, with officials warning that living there would be “like having a gun pointed at you”.

The simmering volcano has ejected smaller ash plumes for days after a gigantic eruption on January 12 which sent ash drifting north over Manila, the capital, about 65 kilometres away.

While a larger, explosive eruption is still possible and tens of thousands of evacuees remain in emergency shelters, officials have begun discussing post-eruption recovery.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said officials in Batangas province, where the volcano is located, have been asked to look for a safer housing area, at least seven acres in size, for about 6,000 families that used to live in four villages and worked mostly as tourist guides, farmers and fish pen operators on Volcano Island.

The new housing site should be at least 17 kilometres away from the restive volcano to be safe, he said.

Residents scramble to grab relief goods given by a citizen at a town near Taal volcano, Tagaytay, Cavite province, Southern Philippines. PHOTO: AP

Philippine President Rodrigo Dueterte has approved a recommendation for the island to be turned into a “no man’s land” but he has yet to issue formal guidelines.

After an initial visit last week, Duterte returned to hard-hit Batangas province yesterday to check conditions of displaced villagers, Ano said. Health officials said hundreds of people have been treated for ash-related breathing problems.

However no deaths have been directly blamed on the eruption.

Ash and volcanic debris have damaged homes near the crater, and the pressure of the magma underground has cracked roads and earth nearby.

Taal left more than 200 people dead in a powerful 1965 eruption, then again exploded in 1977. Government advisories about Taal’s renewed restiveness as early as March last year helped local officials prepare and evacuate thousands of villagers rapidly from Volcano Island hours before the volcano erupted thunderously.