Amidst lockdown, Taal Volcano evacuees return in batches to retrieve belongings

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.

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.

About 125,000 people fled their homes in hardest-hit Batangas province, more than 65km (40 miles) south of Manila.

At least 373 evacuation sites were crammed with the displaced and needed more face 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 77,000 people were displaced in Batangas and the nearby provinces of Cavite and Laguna. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

Among those displaced were about 5,000 people who live on Volcano Island. It is a popular tourist destination renowned for its stunning view of the volcano’s crater lake and lush hills teeming with trees and birds.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has recommended that villagers should not be allowed back.

The 311-metre (1,020-foot) Taal is the second-most restive of about two dozen volcanoes across the Philippines.

The archipelago lies in the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, the string of faults around the ocean basin where much of the world’s seismic activity occurs.