Residents of Pulo Talisay, the island where the Philippines’ Taal Volcano is located, have begun returning to their homes to salvage what’s left, two weeks after the massive eruption that forced them out.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared the island a “no man’s land” on Tuesday, January 14, just days after the eruption, prohibiting residents from going back to their houses. Those who do return have to do it without the authorities finding out and have limited time to recover belongings.
Upon returning to the island on Monday, January 27, some residents were greeted by a devastating outcome: their homes and vehicles buried in volcanic ash, pets lost, and livelihoods gone.
This was the case for Jonathan Dalisay, a tour guide who handles horseback-riding activities in the touristic town.
“I don’t want this to happen again. Our neighbourhood was washed out. Our children — they haven’t returned to school,” he said.
Dalisay managed to leave the area with his family during the eruption but they failed to bring their possessions. All they had were the clothes on their backs.
“There were many of us. We needed three boat rides before managing to escape,” he said.
Out of the many animals they owned, they were only able to save two cows upon returning to the island.
Jheno Villanueva, another tour guide who manages boat rides, experienced a similar situation.
“When the volcano erupted, we were even taking a live video of it. We didn’t expect it, however, to reach our area,” he said.
Villanueva also checked on their fish pen, only to find out it was already destroyed by the eruption. Due to this, they had nothing to harvest and sell.
Back at his family’s home, his relatives tried to retrieve the buried merchandise of their corner store. He managed to retrieve their family’s framed photos and portraits. Meanwhile, his nephew attempted to dig out their motorcycle buried in volcanic ash, but to no avail.
Villanueva’s home is approximately three to four kilometres away from the crater, which takes roughly a two-hour trek.
Surrounding the crater were dead trees, so there was no shade or even clouds to cover the residents coming back to see the area. The hike was difficult and steep, and the heat made it more challenging. The air becomes hotter and thinner nearer the crater, making it hard to breathe.
The crater was a barren, desolate ‘wasteland’ because of the volcanic ash. When going there, extreme caution is imperative, and wearing a face mask could save one’s life.
Nerick Vernas, a local tour guide, explained that several areas near the crater have been buried by volcanic ash. Among them is what the locals call ‘black lava,’ dark molten rocks near the crater that was a popular tourist spot. These rocks are no longer visible due to the amount of volcanic ash that covers them.
“I feel bad for families living on the island. There are thousands of them living there. Their livelihoods are affected. If ever more tourists do come back, they will only be able to go around the island, instead of going to the crater itself,” he said.
Dalisay said that they haven’t thought about what they would do in the future, but hoped that the local government would provide them a livelihood and a new home.
“We don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said.
“I hope we get a new livelihood, even if it’s just the boat ride. That’s how our community earns,” Villanueva said. “Many people have lost their livelihoods. They will lose their jobs all the more if this place will be placed on lockdown. I hope more tourists show up in the future.”
Near the crater, many were still scavenging their homes and fixing their fish pens. But some were already fishing, quick on their feet and eager to earn.
“We will rise again,” Villanueva said, referencing a classic phrase Filipinos say after natural disasters.
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