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14 June 2010

Philippine government bans volcano visits

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The tourist trade faces strict penalties for allowing visitors onto a volcano island in Taal town of Batangas province, south of Manila, after the volcano began to show signs that it might erupt, authorities said on Sunday.

Resort and boat operators who violate the ban by bringing tourists to the island may have their vessels confiscated and their resorts closed, Capt. Frankelino Phaeton of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

“They [the tourists] are curious, they want to see what is new with Taal but we can’t allow that because of the danger,” Phaeton, the local PCG operations officer told Agence France-Presse.

Despite earlier warnings from government volcanologists to avoid the volcano, foreign tourists were still coming to the island, often hiring horses to ride up to the volcano’s crater, local PCG personnel said.

It was mostly South Koreans and some Japanese who were visiting the restive island, they added. Under the new rules, resort and boat operators can only bring tourists halfway to the island but cannot land, Phaeton said.

The ban was imposed after government volcanologists warned on Tuesday that Taal Volcano, 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Manila and in the center of a lake, was becoming more active and showing signs it could erupt.

Taal is one of the most unstable of the country’s 22 known active volcanoes with 33 recorded eruptions, the last one in 1977.

Experts raised the five-level alert to level two.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said that volcanic quakes in the area have been occurring since April and the crater lake was heating up.

Some residents of the volcanic island have voluntarily left, said Phaeton, but there has been no order yet to forcibly evacuate those remaining.

Possible eruption of Taal Volcano made officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) in Batangas decide also on Sunday to transfer holding of classes to the mainland.

Reports reaching the department said that DepEd Batangas ordered classes on volcano island moved to Balete town.

Classes in public elementary and high schools nationwide are to start on June 15.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council also on Sunday confirmed that at least 40 families or 300 people had voluntarily evacuated on Thursday.

The council said that it expects 5,440 people, or 1,058 families evacuated from the volcano area, and 43,260 people, or 1,313 families from along the lakeshore.

It added there are 3,523 residents within the 3-kilometer danger zone on volcano island.

Villages inside the seven-kilometer danger zone include two in San Nicolas town, six in Agoncillo, three in Balete, one in Laurel, three in Mataas na Kahoy and one in Talisay.

Acting Gov. Jose Antonio Leviste 3rd of Batangas ordered all municipal disaster coordinating councils to identify safe evacuation centers other than school buildings and classrooms.

“He [Leviste] said that this is very necessary in order not to compromise the education of the children,” the council said.

The Talisay disaster coordinating council said that was is ready to tap private motorized bancas in the municipality.

Its counterpart in San Nicolas said that it has 130 motorized bancas ready.

The disaster coordinating councils in Calaca and Balayan towns volunteered to accommodate evacuees from affected towns and offered transportation and other services.


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