MANILA: Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated on Luzon island when a volcano began belching smoke were allowed to return home on Sunday after the threat level eased.
Residents in the Batangas province were evacuated after the Taal volcano began spewing clouds of thick ash and steam two weeks ago, prompting Philippine authorities to issue a “level four” warning that an eruption was possible “within hours or days.”
Authorities said the reduction in the threat level did not mean the threat of an eruption had disappeared.
People living in high-risk areas near the volcano were warned to be vigilant and to prepare for a quick evacuation if necessary.
Following the latest advice on the volcano, Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said that residents evacuated from their homes could decide if they wanted to return.
The towns of Agoncillo and Laurel, both within a 7 km radius from Taal’s crater, will remain in lockdown, he said.
Mandanas added that there are still “health hazards due to ashfall, as well as the risk of physical injuries and damage to properties.”
Almost 1 million people had been evacuated, he said. About 800,000 were staying with family or friends, while the rest were housed in evacuation centers in Batangas, and in the neighboring provinces of Quezon, Cavite and Laguna.
Damage due to the volcanic activity has been estimated at $64 million.
Videos on social media showed residents in cars and on motorcycles cheering and waving as they headed home.
Authorities said measures were in place to ensure an orderly return, and appealed for cooperation from residents.
The Batangas governor also said that power and water might still be unavailable because of the shutdown.