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Abandoned houses and coconut trees are seen covered in mud and ash due to the eruption of the nearby Taal volcano, in Laurel in Batangas province on January 16, 2020.-AFP

MANILA:Virtual ghost towns are being created as residents living around the Taal Volcano fled and were later forbidden from returning to their homes.

Since the disaster, 15 municipalities around the area have been placed on total lockdown while authorities wait for volcanic activity to either subside or reach critical levels. All the municipalities were within a 14km-radius danger zone set up by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Within the danger zone are Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Laurel, Lemery, Lipa City, Malvar, Mataasnakahoy, San Nicolas, Santa Teresita, Taal, Talisay and Tanauan City in Batangas; and Tagaytay City in Cavite.

According to the Manila Times, the DILG established a perimeter task force and set up checkpoints to enforce the lockdown.

DILG spokesman and undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said entry to the zone would be severely restricted, while Volcano Island was off-limits.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) Maritime Group and the Philippine Coast Guard would stop anyone from to returning to the island.

To ensure the security of the abandoned homes, the police will deploy an anti-looting task force to patrol the danger zone.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said the areas in the danger zone were susceptible to ballistic projectiles, base surges and volcanic tsunami.

‘We do not want to leave anything to chance.’

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), 213 villages in Batangas were susceptible to base surges, while 28 villages in Cavite were exposed to ballistic projectiles.

Also, 124 villages in Cavite and eight in Laguna could experience volcanic tsunamis.

Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division head Maria Antonia Bornas said the situation in Taal ‘is quite tricky, because the volcano became quiet but the parameters remained the same’.

She added that the volume of sulphur dioxide was high, an indication that magma was still making its way to the surface.

Taal emitted 4,186 tonnes of sulphur dioxide emissions on Thursday, higher than on Wednesday but slightly lower than on Sunday, the agency said.

Alert Level 4 remains in effect at Taal, which means a hazardous explosive eruption is possible in coming days.

Evacuation centres have been overcrowded with fleeing residents since the lockdown was enforced.

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