One year on from Taal volcano eruption, little reprieve for Filipinos forced to flee homes

BATANGAS, Philippines: When the Philippines’ second most active volcano Taal erupted in 1965, Teodora Caraig, born and brought up on Volcano Island, fled but returned a year later. She went on to raise her children and grandchildren on the island, which sits on a lake and surrounds the crater of Taal Volcano. 

These days, the 85-year-old prefers not to think of the island. 

Volcano Island was once home to generations of families like hers. They made their living fishing, farming and guiding thrill-seeking tourists around an active volcano – one of 24 in the Philippines. 

That’s all gone now.

READ: An island, a volcano, a home: Taal was where these Filipinos lived and made their living

Taal roared to life in 2020, forcing hundreds of thousands to leave their homes. 

“Our house, all our belongings are under heaps of ash,” Mrs Caraig told CNA from the emergency tent that she and her children have lived in for the past year.

On Jan 12, 2020, Taal’s continuous eruption created a steam-laden column up to 15km high and spewed ash which fell more than a hundred kilometres away in the capital region Metro Manila. 

A view of Taal Volcano a year since its eruption. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

Residents fled in droves, as the state-declared danger zone expanded from 7km to 14km in a matter of hours. But before that eruption on Jan 12, Volcano Island had already been declared a permanent danger zone. 

After the 1965 eruption, residents still had homes to return to, recalled Mrs Caraig. Not this time. There are hints of vegetation a year on, but for the most parts, what was once lush green land is now a cold grey. 

Mrs Caraig said life on the mainland, away from Volcano Island, still takes some getting used to. “Everything here is bought,” she said, when asked how her family set up the bamboo poles that held up the roofed open-air extension to their emergency tent.

Teodora Caraig was only 30 when she survived the 1965 eruption

Teodora Caraig was only 30 when she survived the 1965 eruption. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

It’s a far cry from the self-sufficient lives they once led – food from the crops they grew, water fetched from the lake. Solar panels provided electricity, and their fish pens were near the shore so small, non-motorised boats were all they needed. 

Now, to get by, they sell home-cooked snacks to mainland villagers. The evacuation site housing Mrs Caraig and her children was meant provide temporary shelter, but like hundreds of former Volcano Island residents in similar sites, they face permanent displacement from the island they once called home.

Families are still in emergency tents a year since the eruption

Families are still in emergency tents a year since the eruption. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

According to government data, almost 870 people displaced by the 2020 eruption are still in temporary evacuation centres in Talisay town, Batangas province. The estimates are conservative, as these figures pertain to centres located in one town alone. 

Taal evacuation centres chart

In one such temporary evacuation site, partition tents have been set up on what would have been the car park of an unfinished building. Only parts of the car park are laid with cement; dirt covers the rest of it. 

Taal volcano evacuation camp 2

Temporary evacuation site in Talisay town, Batangas province for people displaced by the eruption of Taal volcano in the Philippines. (Sourced photo)


At 55, fisherman Romeo Laluz, born and raised on Volcano Island, has been unable to find work on the mainland work matching his skillset. His younger counterparts have fared slightly better, working in construction and drawing weekly wages. 

Fisherman Romeo Laluz heads to their fish pen

Fisherman Romeo Laluz heads to his fish pen. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

With few options, Mr Laluz has gone back to what he knows best, venturing out of the evacuation site every morning to a fish pen his family set up near Volcano Island. This brings in US$10 a week, six times less than what he used to earn on the island before Taal erupted. 

“Our livelihoods on Volcano Island before were good. Tourists would come and we would ferry them back and forth as boatmen. Income was good before the eruption,” he said. 

Mr Laluz’s expenses have also gone up. Now, he has to buy fuel for motorised boat trips each time he heads out to his fish pen. Water and electricity, previously provided by the lake and solar power, are also extra bills he has to contend with. 

Mr Laluz said he makes between US$4 and US$6 on a good day. But sometimes, there is no income. 

“Depends on your luck that day,” he quipped. 

The Laluz family watches TV at home after Romeo arrives from his boat trip (1)

The Laluz family watches TV at home after Romeo returns from his boat trip. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

The Laluz family now live in a government housing project in Balete town, southeast of Volcano Island, set up before the eruption. 

The monthly instalment for the house started at US$6 and will increase gradually to a possible US$30. It will take Mr Laluz 30 years to pay off the house. “I would be dead by then,” he said ruefully. 

WATCH: One year on, life for residents living near Philippines’ Taal volcano remains tough 

The monthly payments are just one of the family’s many financial worries, said Mercy, Mr Laluz’s wife. The family enjoyed a small reprieve when the instalments were suspended after the eruption, but only for a year. 

“We started paying again on Jan 5, but we have no stable income. We used to get it from the island,” Mrs Laluz said.  

“We had a livelihood on the island, but we are no longer permitted to return,” she added. “My children are still in school and not working.” 

The Laluz family watches TV at home after Romeo arrives from his boat trip

The Laluz family watches TV at home after Romeo returns from his boat trip. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

As the family’s sole breadwinner, Mr Laluz works hard to provide for his wife and children, two of whom are in college. 

“I worry what will happen when I’m gone. My children can find jobs. But I labour each day for their education, so they don’t end up like me who didn’t finish school due to poverty,” he said. 

Mr Laluz’s children help out occasionally when he heads out to fish. But he will not allow any of them to work full-time before they graduate college, no matter how hard it gets for him, so that they are not tempted to drop out of school. 

“I remind my eldest to finish school and not to marry too soon, so he can help his siblings and the family. Just to help give our family some relief. We don’t need to be rich. Just a little relief such that I no longer need to cross the lake each day to fish, since I am also of age,” he said. 

Romeo Laluz hops on a smaller boat to go nearer a fish pen

Romeo Laluz hops on a smaller boat to go nearer a fish pen. (Image: Robert Malicsi)


Still, despite the hardship, Mr Laluz can consider himself lucky, having secured proper housing before the eruption. Those who came after him have had to make do with tents and temporary structures. 

Other displaced Volcano Island residents settled in a housing community in Balete town

Other displaced Volcano Island residents settled in a housing community in Balete town, living in emergency tents the past year. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

Fifty-five-year-old Editha Malapitan and her extended family live in one of these tents in Balete. They depend on the generosity of their neighbours – the ones who live in actual houses – for basic necessities like water, electricity and even toilet facilities. 

Donations, which went some way to alleviate the hardship, plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. “It’s hard living here. Sometimes we have no money, no food,” she lamented. “When it rains, sometimes we get wet. But, of course, we put up with it. There’s nowhere else to live.”

Editha Malapitan sweeps the floor of an emergency tent

Editha Malapitan sweeps the floor of an emergency tent. (Image: Robert Malicsi)

The women that CNA spoke to said they have even fewer opportunities for work on the mainland. With the meagre takings from their husbands’ fishing as capital, they sometimes sell cooked snacks to supplement the household income. 

One of Mrs Malapitan nephews asked when they would return to Pulo – the term locals use to refer to Volcano Island. The adults laughed, and then fell silent. 

“We tell the kids we can no longer go back to Pulo, as there is nothing there,” said Mrs Malapitan. “Everything is buried. Our house there no longer stands. Washed out. Our animals, our belongings. We weren’t able to get any of them. 

“We left the island with only our bodies and the clothes we wore.”  

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Australian families of White Island volcano victims hope charges laid over deadly eruption will lead to answers

The sister of a man killed in last year’s White Island volcano eruption says she hopes court action will lead to answers after charges were laid over the disaster.

WorkSafe New Zealand has filed charges against 13 parties over the 2019 tragedy, which claimed the lives of 22 people including 17 Australians.

Meredith Dallow’s brother Gavin and his 15-year-old stepdaughter Zoe Hosking were among those killed.

Lisa Dallow — wife of Gavin and mother of Zoe — was placed in an induced coma with severe burns, and only learned of her loved ones’ deaths weeks after the eruption.

Meredith Dallow, who lives in Adelaide, believes her brother was unnecessarily put at risk.

“They should never have been on the island that day and we should still have Gavin here with us,” she said.

Meredith Dallow says families deserve answers about the disaster.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Ms Dallow said jail time should be a possibility for those found guilty of wrongdoing.

“I’d like them to be more accountable because they’ll pay their fines and they’ll get on with their lives and that’ll be the end for them, whereas for us, it’ll never be over,” she said.

“Considering the seriousness of it all, I think jail time should be a possibility.

“I was quite shocked at the number of charges that have been laid. I wasn’t expecting that, that’s for sure.”

A woman and a girl
Lisa Dallow only learned of her loved ones’ deaths weeks later, in February.(Supplied)

Along with this, she said she hopes those involved could apologise to victims and families.

“We haven’t heard anything. I guess I’m not surprised. I’m hoping, coming up to the first anniversary, all the families are acknowledged,” she said.

“It would be nice to have a written apology from the tour operators but whether that happens or not, who knows? I guess we just have to wait until the court proceedings and the coroner’s inquest are completed.

“When we heard the news, we were absolutely shattered and gobsmacked and then as time’s gone on, we’re frustrated and angry they were allowed on the island on that day, considering the volcanos were showing signs, and even the tour guides were reacting to the signs saying it was a level two.”

Anniversary a difficult time for Queensland family

Julie Richards and her daughter Jessica Richards wearing pink fun run t-shirts smile in a selfie.
The family of Queensland mother and daughter Julie and Jessica Richards say they respect the judicial process after the charges were laid by New Zealand authorities.(Supplied: Barbara Whitehead)

The family of Brisbane woman Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20, are satisfied that charges have been made.

Both women were remembered as lovers of the outdoors.

“It’s a tough time of year for the family,” said family spokesman John Mickel.

“Now the charges have been laid they respect the independence of and impartiality of the judicial system to allow the proper process to flow through.”

He said the anniversary of the tragedy falling so close to Christmas made it especially difficult.

“Obviously, it’s been a tough year for the family with the loss of people who are close to them and the anniversary coming as it does so close to Christmas it’s an especially difficult time for them,” he said.

“We understand there’s going to be a memorial [in New Zealand], we’re thankful for the people remembering loved ones, and all the families involved in what has been a horrible year for everyone.”

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Remains of Two Killed in Vesuvius Eruption Are Discovered at Pompeii

ROME — Excavations at a suburban villa outside ancient Pompeii this month have recovered the remains of two original dwellers frozen in time by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius one fateful morning nearly 2,000 years ago.

The unearthing of the two victims — whom archaeologists tentatively identified as a wealthy Pompeian landowner and a younger enslaved person — offered new insight into the eruption that buried the ancient Roman town, which has been a source of popular fascination since its rediscovery in the 18th century.

The finding is an “incredible font of knowledge for us,” said Massimo Osanna, the departing director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said in a video issued by the Culture Ministry on Saturday. He noted that it was also “a touching discovery of great emotional impact.”

For one thing, the two were dressed in woolen clothing, adding credence to the belief that the eruption occurred in October of 79 A.D. rather than in August of that year as had previously been thought, Mr. Osanna said later in a telephone interview.

The Vesuvius eruption was described in an eyewitness account by the Roman magistrate Pliny the Younger as “an extraordinary and alarming scene.” Buried by ash, pumice and rocks, Pompeii and neighboring cities lay mostly dormant, though intact, until 1748, when King Charles III of Bourbon commissioned the first official excavations of the site.

Since then, much of the ancient city has been unearthed, providing archaeologists and historians with a wealth of information about how its ancient dwellers lived, from their home décor to what they ate to the tools they used.

Using a method refined by the Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1863 and further honed with modern technology, archaeologists last week made plaster casts of the two newly discovered victims. That brings the ranks of Pompeii’s posthumous effigies to more than 100.

In addition to being the first time in half a century that archaeologists created such casts linked to Pompeii — an attempt using cement in the 1990s was not successful — the new casts are also remarkable in the surprising details they captured, including what Mr. Osanna described as the “extraordinary drapery” of their woolen clothing.

“They really seem like statues,” he said.

Archaeologists posit that the two victims had sought refuge in an underground cryptoporticus, or corridor, before being engulfed by a shower of pumice stones, ash and lapilli.

“They very likely died by thermal shock, as the contracted limbs, hands and feet would suggest,” Mr. Osanna said in the video, adding that DNA testing was being carried out on the recovered bones. Pompeii officials believe the older man to have been 30 to 40 years old, and the younger between 18 and 23.

The villa where the discovery was made is in Civita Giuliana, an area about 750 yards northwest of Pompeii’s ancient walls, which has already yielded important finds, including a purebred horse with a bronze-plated saddle uncovered in 2018.

Although the archaeological park closed to visitors on Nov. 6 because of coronavirus restrictions, excavations at the site have continued.

The villa at Civita Giuliana was first excavated briefly in 1907 and 1908. But because it is on private property, the sort of government-commissioned excavations typically carried out on public land did not take place. That changed in 2017, when prosecutors in nearby Torre Annunziata charged a group of people with robbing tombs and looting the site using underground tunnels.

The culture ministry is in the process of buying the land where the villa is situated, and Mr. Osanna said he hoped it could eventually open to the public.

With more than 50 acres still to be excavated, Pompeii continues to be “an incredible site for research, study and training,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said in a statement on Saturday. It is, he said, a mission for the “archaeologists of today and the future.”

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