MANILA (UPDATE)—More than 4,000 residents of Laurel town, Batangas fled their homes after the Taal Volcano spewed a kilometer-high phreatomagmatic plume, the town mayor said Friday.
Mayor Joan Amo said local government evacuated residents from barangays Buso-buso, Gulod, and Bugaan East, which are inside the 7-kilometer danger zone.
"Dinala sila sa mataas na bahagi ng aming bayan (They were brought to higher ground in our town) . . . Sila ay nasa (They are now) 16-kilometer away from Taal Volcano," Amo told Teleradyo.
State seismologists on Thursday raised the alert category over the volcano to Level 3, which means there has been "magmatic unrest" at its main crater.
As the volcano emits high level of sulfur dioxide, Amo appealed for N95 masks for her constituents, who are using regular face masks.
"Talagang nagko-cause ng sipon at ubo sa aming mga kababayan (It's causing colds and coughs among residents)," she said.
In the interview, Amo acknowledged it would be difficult to observe physical distancing at evacuation centers. However, she said there's an isolation area at every evacuation center in case someone showed COVID-19 symptoms.
Since March last year, Laurel has logged more than 180 coronavirus cases. To date, it has only 3 active cases or patients deemed infectious.
NDRRMC spokesperson Mark Timbal meanwhile said at least 259 individuals have been evacuated.
"So far, ang mga na-evacuate nating mga kababayan, 172 individuals ang nag-stay ngayon sa apat na evacuation center sa Batangas province, tapos 87 naman na katao ang nag-evacuate pero tumuloy sa mga kamag-anakan nila other places," he said.
(So far we have evacuated 172 individuals who are now staying in 4 evacuation centers in Batangas province, and 87 others who evacuated but decided to stay with their relatives in other places.)
In Taal town, the local government is prepared to evacuate their residents in case of more eruption.
"In case of any eventuality, naka-ready kami kung saan pupunta (we are ready on where to go)," Mayor Fulgencio Mercado told ANC.
He noted Taal town has been considered relatively safe from the eruptions.
"Sa history ng Bulkang Taal, wala pa talagang nangyaring damage kahit ano dito sa Taal town proper," Mercado said.
(In the history of Taal Volcano, Taal town proper has not sustained any damage.)
The town has been considered as an evacuation area for all eruptions of Taal since 1911, he added. It was only in 2020 when residents were forced to flee due to threat of base surge.
A base surge is a deadly lateral blast of hot gas, ash, and volcanic debris.
Should Taal residents evacuate to other towns, Mercado said they would be administering antigen tests for COVID-19.
The town mayor also lamented that the 2020 eruption and global pandemic have caused loss in livelihood.
In January last year, Taal spewed ash and steam in a phreatic eruption that reached parts of the capital region and nearby provinces. It displaced 700,000 people and inflict P3.4 billion in damage to infrastructure and agriculture.