Dozens of chickens are hauled in a rickshaw as residents affected by the erupting Taal Volcano are temporarily allowed to collect belongings and abandoned animals from their homes in Agoncillo, Batangas, Philippines, on January 17 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ELOISA LOPEZ
Dozens of chickens are hauled in a rickshaw as residents affected by the erupting Taal Volcano are temporarily allowed to collect belongings and abandoned animals from their homes in Agoncillo, Batangas, Philippines, on January 17 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ELOISA LOPEZ

Agoncillo — Thousands of residents under orders to evacuate from a town near the Philippine volcano Taal were allowed to briefly visit homes on Friday to rescue their animals and recover some possessions, taking advantage of what appears to be waning activity.

Daniel Reyes, mayor of the Agoncillo town inside the danger zone of the 311m high volcano, said he allowed around 3,000 residents to check their properties and retrieve animals, clothes and other possessions.

“If I would not let them rescue their animals, their animals would die and together with them their sources of livelihood,” Reyes told Reuters.

A long line of cars, trucks, motorcycle taxis carrying pigs, dogs, TV sets, gas stoves and electric fans, were seen leaving Agoncillo, among the towns blanketed in thick layers of volcanic ash.

“Our bodies are fine, but our minds and hearts are in pain”, said resident Peding Dawis while resting after taking his cows to safer areas. Dawis said there were 200 more pigs that needed rescuing in his neighbourhood. “It’s hard to leave our homes and livelihood behind.”

More than 40,000 residents of Agoncillo have abandoned their homes since Taal, one of the Philippines’ most active and deadliest volcanoes, began spewing huge clouds of ash, steam and gas on Sunday, Reyes said. The majority of residents are now staying with families elsewhere, but the rest are among a total of 66,000 people sheltering in evacuation centres.

Signs of calm

Taal has been calmer since Thursday and Reyes said he took advantage of this window to allow residents to collect their belongings.

“Based on what I saw outside, I thought I would be doing them more good if I let them return to their homes,” Reyes said. “The help they are getting now is only [temporary]”.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said it observed “steady steam emission and infrequent weak explosions” from the volcano’s main crater, but it continues to record dozens of earthquakes in nearby towns.

The institute said on Friday that the danger level posed by the volcano remains at four out of a possible five, meaning “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days”.

“We do not base the alert level simply on what we see on the surface. We have to try to interpret what is happening below,” Renato Solidum, the institute’s chief, told CNN Philippines. “There is sometimes waning activity but the activity below is still continuing.”

The effect of the volcano on the $330bn national economy has been a blip, despite canceled flights and a day of work lost on Sunday because of a heavy ash fall in the capital Manila, 70km away.

But for some of the farmers growing pineapples, bananas and coffee nearby it has been a disaster. Volcanic ash has caused an estimated 3.06-billion pesos ($60.17m) worth of damage to crops, livestock and fish farms, based on the latest data from the agriculture department.

Although Taal is one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, it can be deadly. An eruption killed more than 1,300 people in 1911.

Reuters