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Fear grips Taal residents as major river dries up

PANSIPIT RIVER

A PORTION of Pansipit River in Batangas dries up as Taal Volcano continues to erupt. The river is the sole drainage outlet of Taal Lake, which empties to Balayan Bay. It stretches about nine kilometers, passing along the towns of Agoncillo, Lemery, San Nicolas, and Taal. (Ali Vicoy)

By AARON RECUENCO • JOSEPH PEDRAJAS

TAAL, Batangas – Fear gripped residents here after a portion of a major river that runs in this town suddenly dried up early Wednesday morning, triggering speculations that the Taal Volcano is gathering strength for a more destructive eruption.

According to a resident, the Pansipit River in Barangay Tatlong Maria, Taal, dried up due to continuous eruption of Taal.

“Kaninang umaga lang ‘yan. Kahapon mataas pa ang tubig, lagpas tao,” Lolo Peping, 74, said.

The oldest fisher in the area, Lolo Peping said they caught some 10 tubs of various live fish, including tilapia and milkfish, a day before the river dried up.

“Hindi ganyan karami. Madalas hindi lalagpas sa sampung kilo ang nakukuha namin,” he added.

The fisher believed that the fishes were from several fish cages nearby, which were damaged by constant earthquakes caused by the volcano’s activities.

Lolo Peping said the river, which hosts a regular fluvial parade, had been part of his childhood.

Dr. Winchell Sevilla, of the Volcano Monitoring department of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismnology (Phivolcs), explained that what happened at the Pansipit River is indeed Taal Volcano eruption-related.

He said that since they have been monitoring magma activity inside the volcano, the tendency is for the ground to swell because of the magma accumulation.

The areas where the ground swelling are monitored are in Lemery, Taal and other areas which are close to the Taal Volcano.

“And since the natural flow of water in the river is that it goes to the lower areas, a portion of the Pansipit River dried up possibly because of the swelling or bulging of the ground in the area,” Sevilla said in an interview.

As such, the natural flow of water at the Pansipit River at the portion of Barangay Tatlong Maria in Taal was disturbed and is no longer accessible to water because the area suddenly went up.

Another explanation, which is unlikely according to Sevilla, is that there is a blockage that hinder the flow of water from the supply.

So where did the water go?

One explanation is that the water was stuck in the lower area since its natural flow was disturbed by sudden swelling of the ground.

Another logical explanation, according to Sevilla, is that the water that was supposed to flow along the Pansipit was absorbed by the fissures that were monitored in the past days.

Based on the situation report from the Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), fissures or large cracks were observed in Sinisian, Mahabang Dahilig, Dayapan, Palanas, Sangalang, Poblacion in the town of Lemery; Pansipit in the town of Agoncillo; Poblacion 1, Poblacion 2, Poblacion 3, Poblacion 5 in the town of Talisay and Poblacion area of San Nicolas town.

“A fissure was also documented across the road connecting Agoncillo to Laurel, Batangas,” according to the situation report of the Batangas PDRRMO.

“The drying up of river is consistent to the fissures that were seen in the areas near the volcano,” said Sevilla.
And what does this indicate?

The message is simple, according to Sevilla: It is not yet safe to return to the areas which were earlier recommended to be evacuated.

“This is the reason why Taal is still under Alert Level 4. There are still a lot of activity so it is not yet safe for them to go back to their homes,” Sevilla said.

In Barangay Buso-Buso in Laurel, a fisherman said Wednesday that they had been recovering tubs of dead milkfish since Tuesday on the coast of Taal Lake.

They believed that the temperature of the water which rose due to the eruption of the volcano killed the fish.

DEATHS AND DAMAGES

Meanwhile, authorities reported on Wednesday the death of two people during the Taal Volcano eruption, saying one of them died while being evacuated.

In a report from the Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), 65-year-old Anatalia Dionisio suffered heart attack while being evacuated from Talisay town on Sunday while 27-year-old Danilo Toledo also succumbed to heart attack on Monday.

Authorities also monitored two deaths due to vehicular accident in Lipa City on Monday but investigation is still being conducted to determine if the road crash is volcano eruption-related.

The PDRRMO of Batangas also reported a total of P217,794,702 in damage to agriculture, especially in the areas that were blanketed by thick ashes emitted by the volcano since Sunday afternoon.

The figure, however, is a result of the initial assessment.

Based on the breakdown, cassava and other high-value crops suffered the most with R93.3 million and R92 million in damage respectively.

As of 5 a.m. on Wednesday, the Batangas PDRRMO reported that there were 18,646 families, or 82,068 evacuees staying in 287 evacuation centers in Batangas.

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