Inside Taal volcano's 'danger zone,' unease over rebuilding

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 14 2020 02:53 PM | Updated as of Jan 15 2020 08:28 AM

Rescuers save animals left along the coastal areas of Barangay Calawit, Balete, Batangas on Tuesday. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported on Tuesday that plants and wildlife in Taal island were killed after Taal Volcano’s eruption last January 12, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

AGONCILLO, Batangas -- Her head wrapped in a towel to block volcanic ash, Gina Medina left this town by foot, unsure like many here how to rebuild her life after Taal Volcano's explosion 2 days ago destroyed their homes and livelihood.

Debris pierced holes into the roof of Medina's home and the fish pen where she works as a caretaker, was buried in ash. Agoncillo is located inside the "danger zone" of Taal, which spewed a giant ash column into the air last Sunday and is at risk of a "hazardous" eruption.

"Kung malala talaga, ano pa magagawa? (If it's this bad, what can I do?)" the 43-year-old Medina told ABS-CBN News. She evaded a police blockade that barred entry of civilians into the disaster zone by taking a different route.

Agoncillo is one of several towns that surround picturesque Taal Lake, which holds the eponymous volcano that last erupted in 1977. The town was near barren on Tuesday, save for a few who swept ash from their roofs.

Along the highway that leads to the town, police blocked Agoncillo residents who want to check on their homes citing safety concerns. Earthquakes have become common since Sunday's eruption.

"Hindi ko pa po naranasan ito (I never experienced this before)," 62-year-old pig pen owner Pedro del Mundo said, as he haggled with troops manning the blockade to let him pass.

Del Mundo said he was worried for his 30 pigs left behind. The hogs were ready to be sold before the volcano erupted.

"Pano na hanapbuhay ko? Sayang naman. Pinakamura pa na man doon P6,000 (What will become of my livelihood? It will go to waste. I can sell one for at least P6,000)," he said.

Asked if he would still work as a pig farmer, he said: "Ano pa ba gagawin ko? Yun lang alam kong hanapbuhay (What else can I do? That's the only livelihood I know)."

A policeman guarding the highway, Corporal Alvin Virtucio, said he had worked 3 days straight and was worried for his house, which was also destroyed.

"Hindi namin alam (We don't know)," he said, when asked how he planned to start anew.

The town's police chief, Capt. Danilo Manalo, said Agoncillo was off limits due to ash and frequent earthquakes. Some 39,000 people have been evacuated, he told ABS-CBN News.

In neighboring San Nicolas town, Mayor Lester de Sagun pleaded with residents wanting to return to leave as soon as they check their belongings.

"Mga kasama, pagkakuha ng mga gamit, Level 4 pa din, kailangan tayo'y magsilikas pa din," he said, referring to the volcano warning that remains in force.

(After we get fetch our belongings, we need to evacuate again. We're still at Level 4.)

Batangas was placed under a state of calamity on Monday, which will enable the local government to tap emergency funds and freeze prices of basic goods as needed.

President Rodrigo Duterte has said he would visit areas affected by the volcano on Tuesday.

"Mag-ikot nga ako then I will see how the...'di ibigay ko sa sundalo pati pulis. In times of crisis talaga, all I can... to manage the situation is the military and the police. Nandoon naman sila," Duterte said.