Philippine volcano's quakes, cracks send more people fleeing

Workers remove ash from electrical posts at a checkpoint following the eruption of Taal Volcano in Talisay, Batangas, Philippines on Jan 15, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LEMERY (AP) - A Philippine volcano belched smaller plumes of ash on Thursday (Jan 16) but shuddered continuously with earthquakes, cracking roads in nearby towns, which were blockaded by police due to fears of a bigger eruption.

Taal volcano's crater lake and a nearby river have dried up in some of the signs of its continuing volcanic restiveness. That has prompted army troops and police to block villagers from sneaking back by boat to the volcanic island and nearby towns to retrieve belongings, poultry and cattle.

There have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries from the sudden eruption, which began on Sunday, but many houses and farms have been damaged by volcanic ash. The volcano in Batangas province lies more than 65km south of the capital, Manila.

Amid warnings of an imminent and more dangerous eruption, police cordoned off at least four towns along or near the coast of a lake surrounding volcano island, sparking arguments with villagers.

"We've lost everything, our house got damaged, but I need to retrieve my pots and cooking wares and other things. They should not be very, very strict," Ms Erlinda Landicho, a 59-year-old mother, told The Associated Press.

Ms Landicho, who fled with her son from Lemery municipality as the volcano erupted, was among a throng of villagers stopped by police from re-entering the ash-blanketed town. A firetruck blocked a key access road and police set up checkpoints. Beyond the barricade, Lemery looked like a ghost town partly shrouded in swirling ash.

More than 121,000 people fled their homes just in Batangas province, which has declared a state of calamity to allow faster releases of emergency funds.

At least 373 evacuation sites were crammed with displaced villagers and needed more ash masks, portable toilets, bottled water and sleeping mats, according to a provincial disaster-response office.

The government's main-disaster agency reported a little more than 65,000 people were displaced by the eruption in Batangas and Cavite province. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

Among those displaced were about 5,000 people who live on the island where the Taal volcano lies. The island had been a popular tourist destination for its stunning view of the volcano's crater lake and lush hills teeming with trees and birds.

Some villagers have slipped past checkpoints to retrieve some of the hundreds of cows and horses they left behind, prompting the coast guard and police to intensify a security cordon.

A villager who returned from the island described to AP how the island now resembles an ash-blanketed wasteland.

About four villages exist on the island despite it being declared a state-protected area and a permanent danger zone. Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has recommended that villagers should not be allowed back.

The 311m Taal is one of the world's smallest volcanoes but also one of the most restive of 24 active volcanoes across the Philippines. The South-east Asian archipelago of more than 100 million people is located in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a vast region in the ocean basin where most of the world's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

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