For a time, people in Batangas and neighboring areas of Luzon, including Metro Manila somewhat, lived in an atmosphere of concern and fear since January 12. That was the day when the “little volcano that really could,” Taal, erupted in a massive column of steam and ash that blanketed the lake island where it is situated and much of its surroundings. The national volcanology institute PHIVOLCS warned that such intense activity could herald a great explosive eruption, setting a penultimate high alert level and trying to keep evacuees from returning so soon. Over a month later, those fears could be dying down with Taal Volcano.
GMA News has it that the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has now put Taal Volcano at the lowest danger level for eruption yet, ever since its big blow-up last month. The agency has measured a consistent decrease in activity at the volcano island in the middle of Taal Lake in Batangas, ranging from a lowering of the number of volcanic quakes, to the thinning out of steam and ash emissions, to the settling of the earth indicating that the magma underneath has begun to settle back down.
To that end, PHIVOLCS has downgraded Taal to Alert Level 2 in light of its decreasing level of unrest, down from Alert Level 3 last January 26, which was itself a downgrade from the worrying Alert Level 4 of the first week of eruption, with Level 5 possibly having been raised if the forecast explosive eruption ever came to pass. With only 127 volcanic quakes recorded from the last high of 141, and the lowering or subsidence of ground level from the Taal caldera and the Pansipit River outlet to the sea, state volcanologists believe it may only be a matter of time before the Alert Level downgrades to 1.
That said, PHIVOLCS also warns local residents that the lower alert levels do not mean a return to dormancy for Taal, which along with Mayon further east in Bicol are among the most active volcanoes in the Philippines. That means a threat of eruption will always be constant. While residents of the communities surrounding the lakeshore of Taal Lake have already returned from their evacuationin order to start fixing up their homes and businesses, Volcano Island remains a designated permanent danger zone, with lake-based Coast Guard patrols still dissuading any attempt to go back there. About P3.4 billion worth in damages were estimated from the latest eruption of Taal, the bulk of which took place only a week but monitored for much longer than that.
Image courtesy of CNN Philippines