For over a week, the Taal Volcano in the Batangas Province of the Philippines has released ash and debris into the air. Worried that the ash plume signals an oncoming eruption, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOLCS) issued evacuation orders for the surrounding areas. The Philippine Seismic Network registered over 700 volcanic earthquakes since the ash plume began, providing additional evidence to the movement of material within the volcano and its volatile unpredictability. The ash cloud has subsided considerably and although the evacuation orders remain in place, some local government officials have begun calling for evacuated residents to return to their homes to begin clean-up.
The risks associated with an eruption are complicated. The Taal Volcano is located approximately 40 miles south of the city of Manila, which boasts a metropolitan area population of over 10 million people. Outside of Manila, the areas between the city and the Taal volcano are densely populated and the Volcano itself serves as a tourist attraction. In addition to the typical volcanic impacts of lava flows and ash clouds, the displacement of debris from an eruption of the Taal Volcano into the nearby waters could create a devastating tsunami. With the estimates of over 25 million people, 5 million households, and $200 billion worth of buildings and infrastructure exposed to all or some of these hazards, expect PHILVOLCS to continue playing the “better safe than sorry” card until they’re absolutely sure the threat has passed. The area remains under Alert Level 4 (out of 5 possible alert levels, the fifth reserved for ongoing eruptions) based on the potential for further eruptive activity in high-risk areas.
Local Government View
It is worth noting that most government officials have complied with all evacuation orders and there is no widespread sign of discontent with how PHILVOLCS or the macro-decision-making has functioned with respect to the management of this hazard. However, those who disagree with the evacuation orders have made their opinions known. This group wants people to return to their homes, begin cleanup, and end the costs and challenges associated with sheltering and providing for evacuated and displaced persons. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reports over 140,000 persons displaced in 408 designated evacuation centers while an additional 68,000 are estimated to have evacuated to other locations.
Domestic and international flights have resumed, most roads previously reported as closed have reopened, and power has been restored to 17 out of the 20 reported municipalities which experienced outages. As infrastructure systems and networks come back online, the public pressure on PHILVOLCS to recommend lifting the evacuation should increase.
By Guest Contributor: Brad Milliken