Philippines looks to relocate Taal volcano residents

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The Philippine government will no longer allow people to live on the crater-studded island that’s home to the erupting Taal volcano, with officials warning that living there would be “like having a gun pointed at you.”

The simmering volcano has ejected smaller ash plumes for days after a gigantic eruption Jan. 12 sent ash drifting north over Manila, the capital, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) away. While a larger, explosive eruption is still possible and tens of thousands of evacuees remain in emergency shelters, officials have begun discussing post-eruption recovery.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said officials in Batangas province, where the volcano is located, have been asked to look for a safer housing area, at least 3 hectares (7 acres) in size, for about 6,000 families that used to live in four villages and worked mostly as tourist guides, farmers and fish pen operators on Volcano Island. The new housing site should be at least 17 kilometers (10 miles) away from the restive volcano to be safe, he said.

The island was long ago designated a national park that’s off-limits to permanent villages. The government’s volcano-monitoring agency has separately declared the island a permanent danger zone, but still, impoverished villagers have lived and worked there for decades.

“We have to enforce these regulations once and for all because their lives are at stake,” Ano said Sunday, adding that closely regulated tourism work could eventually be allowed on the island without letting residents live there permanently.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a recommendation for the island to be turned into a “no man’s land,” but he has yet to issue formal guidelines. After an initial visit last week, Duterte plans to return to hard-hit Batangas province on Monday to check conditions of displaced villagers, Ano said.

The 311-meter (1,020-foot)-high Taal is the second most-active of 24 restive Philippine volcanoes. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has placed Taal at alert level 4, the second-highest warning, indicating a more dangerous explosive eruption is possible within hours or days due to continuous earthquakes, emissions of volcanic gases, and other signs that magma is rising.