Philippine volcano still ‘life threatening’ despite lull

TAGAYTAY (AP) — An erupting Philippine volcano remains life threatening despite weaker emissions and fewer tremors, an official said yesterday and advised thousands of displaced villagers not to return to the danger zone.

The Taal volcano emitted weaker ash and steam explosions on Thursday and yesterday, the sixth day of its eruption. But despite the seeming lull, continuing volcanic quakes, the drying of the crater lake and other signs indicate magma is moving beneath, said Maria Antonia Bornas, an official with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

“When there is an explosion, that will be life threatening, especially if people get very near, like on Volcano Island,” head of the institute Renato Solidum told The Associated Press.

The volcano since last Sunday has remained at alert level four, the second-highest warning, indicating a hazardous explosive eruption is possible in hours or days. Solidum said assessing whether the volcano’s restiveness has eased may take up to two weeks.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from areas now under a security lockdown, and soldiers and police have been stopping desperate villagers from returning to retrieve belongings and save their poultry and cattle. Police have allowed batches of residents to check their homes for a few hours during the day in some high-risk villages. Jerick Oco, a 21-year-old who worked as a tourist guide on Volcano Island, which sits in the middle of Taal Lake south of Manila, was relieved to hear that the volcano was calming down but said poor villagers like him face more daunting problems, like finding new homes and jobs.

“They should help people retrieve belongings from their homes instead of blocking them. They should help them restart (their lives) again,” Oco said.

Many houses and farms are damaged by ash, though no deaths or major injuries directly caused by the eruption have been reported. Authorities have reported one traffic fatality on an ash-covered road and an evacuee dying from a heart attack.

A worker cleans out volcanic ash at a restaurant near the Taal Volcano at Tagaytay, Cavite province, southern Philippines. PHOTO: AP