RESIDENTS from several towns around Taal Volcano in Batangas province were allowed to return home on Sunday after the state seismologist lowered the alert status, citing a “decreased tendency toward a hazardous eruption.”
Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas lifted the lockdown in the towns of Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Lemery, Malvar Mataasnakahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal and Talisay, and Tanauan and Lipa cities, all within the 14-kilometer danger zone.
Residents of Taal Volcano Island, which remained on a permanent lockdown, were barred from going home. The municipalities of Agoncillo and Laurel, which are seven kilometers away from the volcano, remained on lockdown.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) lowered Taal Volcano’s alert status to level 3 from 4 on Sunday morning, ending a two-week crisis that displaced at least a million people.
Phivolcs recorded fewer earthquakes around Taal, while gas and steam activity had eased, Phivolcs Director Renato U. Solidum, Jr. said at a briefing streamed on Facebook.
The agency recorded only 27 “significant earthquakes,” down from 959 a day from Jan. 12 to 24, it said in an 8 a.m. report.
Activity at the Taal Main Crater also eased to “infrequent weak ash eruptions and longer episodes of degassing or steaming” that generated steam-laden plumes that were less than a kilometer tall.
“This marked decline coupled with volcanic earthquake activity suggests stalling, degassing and reduction in gas pressures of eruptible magma in the shallow magmatic region that feeds surface eruptive activity,” Phivolcs said.
“Residents of all towns under lockdown except Agoncillo and Laurel now have the option to return to their respective residences or places of work,” Mr. Mandanas said at a televised briefing from Batangas.
Mr. Mandanas and other top local officials cheered after a representative from Phivolcs announced the alert status had been lowered.
In Lemery, hundreds of residents aboard vehicles rushed to the town after police allowed them entry past 9 a.m. One of them was Annabel Enriquez, who said they have been waiting at the checkpoint since 4 a.m.
Evacuation centers will remain open for residents who need a temporary shelter, the governor said. He also urged people to be wary of ashfall and other health hazards.
Agoncillo Mayor Daniel Reyes asked Mr. Mandanas to lif the lockdown in their area because only two villages are within the seven-kilometer danger zone.
“In case we are allowed to go home, we will be ready in case another eruption occurs,” he told dzBB radio in Filipino.
Phivolcs said the level of sulfur dioxide emissions steadied at an average of 250 tons per day in the past five days, which is “consistent with a progressively degassed shallow magma source and diminished plume activity.”
“People are also advised to observe precautions due to ground displacement across fissures, frequent ashfall and minor earthquakes,” it said.
The agency noted, however, that lowering the volcano’s alert level “should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased or that the threat of a hazardous eruption has disappeared.”
The alert status will be lowered by another step if the volcano’s activity continues to subside, it said.
More than 98,000 families in Batangas, Quezon, Laguna and Cavite provinces were affected by the volcano’s eruption, according to the local disaster agency’s 6 a.m. report on Sunday.
About 37,000 families were taking temporary shelter in 497 evacuation centers, while 43,824 families were being served outside them, it said. — Genshel L. Espedido and Emmanuel Tupas, Philippine Star