Philippine villagers fear twin perils: Volcano and COVID-19

Jul 1, 2021, 11:09 PM | Updated: Jul 2, 2021, 8:05 am

LAUREL, Philippines (AP) — Thousands of people were being evacuated from villages around a rumbling volcano near the Philippine capital Friday, but officials said they faced another dilemma of ensuring emergency shelters will not turn into epicenters of COVID-19 infections.

The alert was raised to three on a five-level scale after Taal Volcano blasted a dark gray plume into the sky Thursday. The five-minute steam- and gas-driven explosion was followed by four smaller emissions but the volcano was generally calm on Friday, volcanologists said.

Level three means “magma is near or at the surface, and activity could lead to hazardous eruption in weeks,” according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Level five means a life-threatening eruption is occurring that could endanger communities.

The agency asked people to stay away from a small island in a scenic lake where Taal sits and is considered a permanent danger zone along with a number of nearby lakeside villages in Batangas province south of Manila.

An eruption of Taal last year displaced hundreds of thousands of people and briefly closed Manila’s international airport. However, the volcano agency’s chief, Renato Solidum, said it was too early to know if the volcano’s current unrest will lead to a full-blown eruption.

The preemptive evacuations that began late Thursday involved residents in five high-risk villages in the lakeside towns of Laurel and Agoncillo.

More than 14,000 people may have to be moved temporarily away from the volcano, said Mark Timbal, a spokesman for the government’s disaster-response agency.

Town officials, however, faced an extra predicament of ensuring emergency shelters, usually school buildings, basketball gymnasiums and even Roman Catholic church grounds, would not become coronavirus hotspots. Displaced villagers were asked to wear face masks and were sheltered in tents set safely apart, requiring considerably more space than in pre-pandemic times.

In Laurel town, Imelda Reyes feared for her and her family’s safety in their home near the volcano and in the crowded grade school-turned-evacuation center where they took shelter Friday.

“If we stay home, the volcano can explode anytime,” Reyes told The Associated Press. “But here, just one sick person can infect all of us. Both are dangerous choices.”

Reyes, who washes laundry and has four children, wept in desperation as she said she and her husband, a corn farmer, wanted to leave the evacuation camp for a friend’s house in northern Nueva Ecija province but lamented they did not have money for the bus fare.

Most evacuation camps have set up isolation areas in case anyone began showing COVID-19 symptoms.

“It’s doubly difficult now. Before, we just asked people to rush to the evacuation centers and squeeze themselves in as much as possible,” said disaster-response officer Junfrance De Villa of Agoncillo town.

“Now, we have to keep a close eye on the numbers. We’re doing everything to avoid congestion,” De Villa told The Associated Press by telephone.

A nearby town safely away from the restive volcano could accommodate up to 12,000 displaced Agoncillo residents in pre-pandemic times but could only shelter half of that now. A laidback town of more than 40,000 people, Agoncillo has reported more than 170 COVID-19 cases but only about a dozen remain ill. At least 11 residents have died, he said.

The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million confirmed cases.

An alarming surge in infections has started to ease in Manila and outlying regions. But daily cases remain high and lockdowns have been reimposed in several provinces that have reported case spikes.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination campaign saddled with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March.

Duterte blamed the problems on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind.

The 1,020-foot (311-meter) Taal, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes, erupted in January last year, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and sending clouds of ash to Manila, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, where the main airport was temporarily shut down.

Heavy ashfall also buried an abandoned fishing community, which thrived for years in the shadow of Taal on an island in Taal Lake, and shut down a popular district of tourist inns, restaurants, spas and wedding venues.

The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.

___

Associated Press journalist Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Germany, Denmark, Norway to deliver 16 howitzers to Ukraine

BERLIN (AP) — German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht on Sunday announced the delivery of 16 wheeled armored howitzers produced in Slovakia to Ukraine next year. The Zuzana systems would be produced in Slovakia and financed jointly with Denmark, Norway and Germany, the German minister told public broadcaster ARD after returning from her first trip to […]
6 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden drives a Cadillac Lyriq through the showroom during a tour at the Detroi...
Associated Press

Biden pledge to make federal fleet electric faces slow start

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden, a self-described “car guy,” often promises to lead by example by moving swiftly to convert the sprawling U.S. government fleet to zero-emission electric vehicles. But efforts have lagged in helping meet his ambitious climate goals by eliminating gas-powered vehicles from the federal fleet. Biden last year directed the U.S. […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Accused serial killer Billy Chemirmir looks back during his retrial on April 25, 2022, at Fr...
Associated Press

Man accused of killing 22 older women goes on trial again

DALLAS (AP) — After Mary Brooks was found dead on the floor of her Dallas-area condo, grocery bags from a shopping trip still on her countertop, authorities decided the 87-year-old had died of natural causes. Even after her family discovered jewelry was missing — including a coral necklace she loved and diamond rings — it […]
6 hours ago
Trump-Pence sign hangs on a building off of Main Street in Monongahela, Pa., on Sept. 23, 2022. The...
Associated Press

Trump: ‘King’ to some in Pennsylvania, but will it help GOP?

MONONGAHELA, Pa. (AP) — The Trump-Pence sign still hangs on the older building off Main Street in this historic town, a lasting vestige of the campaign fervor that roused voters, including many who still believe the falsehood that the former president didn’t lose in 2020 and hope he’ll run in 2024. The enthusiasm for Donald […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo attends a news conference on the arrest of Clark County Pu...
Associated Press

Nevada governor, Las Vegas sheriff face off in first debate

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak and his Republican challenger, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, are meeting for their only scheduled debate of this election year on Sunday, where they’ll face off after a botched inmate escape at the state Department of Corrections and air their long-simmering rivalry that has pitted the […]
6 hours ago
This Sept. 20, 2022 image shows a sign in Navajo on the fence surrounding the San Juan Generating S...
Associated Press

US shift away from coal hits tribal community in New Mexico

KIRTLAND, N.M. (AP) — The clamor of second graders breaking away from lessons to form lunch lines has gotten quieter in a rural New Mexico community, where families losing coal jobs have been forced to pack up and leave in search of work. At Judy Nelson Elementary, 1 in 4 students have left in an […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Philippine villagers fear twin perils: Volcano and COVID-19