Teresa Aquino, 35, was with a group of tourists in the Taal crater in the Philippines, when the volcano erupted on Sunday and, scared, fled as quickly as possible along with her family, since her house is at The feet of the volcano.
“I want to cross to see how my house is and see if my horses have survived,” says EFE Teresa, who tries to circumvent the authorities’ restriction and find a boat that takes her to Taal, the island where her house is located, next to the volcano inserted in the lake of the same name.
Teresa lives in Taal since she was born, with a vague notion about the risk of living on the slopes of a volcano, but there she made a living raising horses to transport tourists who visited the island and climbed up to the crater.
Fishing in the now polluted lake and tourism to the small and picturesque volcano were the main livelihood for the 5,000 people who populated the island, which the Philippine government declared yesterday “not habitable.”
“If they kick us out of Taal, I don’t know what we will do. I don’t know how to live somewhere else,” Teresa lamented, aware that her simple wooden house will be sunk by the accumulation of ash and that her horses and other animals will have died.
SMALL VOLCANO BUT LETAL
Despite its small size, the Taal is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, since it has erupted 33 times since 1572, and also the most lethal: its eruption in 1911 killed 1,300 people and that of 1965 to 200.
This new uprising of the Taal has also hit the municipalities located around the shore of the lake, such as Agoncillo, Talisay, Lemery or San Nicolás, which have been covered by a dense mantle of volcanic ash.
These locations are in the danger zone, within 14 kilometers of radius around the volcano, where evacuation is mandatory and a “total closure” has been imposed with military controls on the accesses to prevent the return of its inhabitants.
In total there are more than 68,000 people evacuated, 57,000 of them installed in one of the 257 centers enabled in public buildings, according to the latest data from the National Council for Disaster Risk Reduction.
However, today the evacuees were able to return to their homes for a few hours to verify with desolation the damage caused by the eruption: houses destroyed by earthquakes, cracks, roofs sunk by the ash and death of their animals.
“Sunday was horrible. It all started with a strong tremor and smoke. Then the earthquakes happened every five minutes,” recalls EFE Arnel Angulo, while stupidly contemplating his house collapsed in the “zero zone” of the tragedy, where today agonizing dogs and dehydrated animals were seen.
Arnel sadly admits that most of his neighbors will never return to the town of Agoncillo because they have lost everything and find it cheaper to settle elsewhere.
Almost everyone in Agoncillo is engaged in livestock, but thousands of cattle have been lost in the area due to toxic smoke and lack of water and food; although Erwin Apilo has been lucky: his score of pigs and a dozen hens “miraculously” have survived, but he does not know for how long, since there is no water.
Today he has returned to his home for the first time on a secondary road to avoid military control, as it is the only town where he has not been allowed access to collect his belongings to those evacuated due to the risk of collapse of half-destroyed homes and deep cracks in the ground.
“Agoncillo is completely devastated. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to resume normal life here. It’s going to be very difficult,” says Erwin, who evacuated Monday when the ash that covered his house accumulated a thickness of more than twelve centimeters and the tremors They didn’t stop.
BRIEF BACK TO HOME
In Talisay, authorities today allowed access from 6 to 10 in the morning so that evacuated people could rescue their pets, feed their horses and collect some of their belongings.
Louie Mayuga drank coffee while her employees filled wheelbarrows with the ash accumulated on the roof of her business. “I keep paying the salary but the business has not worked since Sunday. I do not know how long I can continue like this,” explains the owner of a cafeteria and a car wash facility.
Equally concerned about his business was Juvilin Pangulan, 36, who runs a greengrocer in the basement of the family home. “I don’t know when we can resume our lives,” he says sadly as he cleans the dust embedded in a second-hand jeep he bought in November to stock his store.
But the volcano is still active, although the expulsion of smoke and ash has decreased. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said today that there is still magma rising to the surface and that the risk of a dangerous lava eruption is imminent, so it kept the alert at level 4 of 5 for the fifth day.
Sara Gómez Armas