Number of evacuees due to Taal Volcano's unrest now at over 40,000

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 15) – The number of people forced to leave their homes due Taal Volcano’s unrest rose to more than 40,000, according to disaster response officials.

As of Wednesday noon, 43,681 people are taking shelter in 217 evacuation centers in Batangas and Cavite, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The council also reported that 53,019 people have been affected by the volcano’s eruption.

However, Brig. Gen. Kit Teofilo, commander of the Joint Task Force Taal, told reporters Wednesday that 82,068 people are now taking shelter in evacuation centers.

Michael Salalima, Metro Manila Development Authority's Disaster Risk Reduction and Management focal person said over CNN Philippines' The Source on Wednesday that evacuees still need water, meals and beddings.

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On Tuesday, NDRRMC spokesperson Mark Timbal urged the local government of Batangas to ban residents from returning home following reports that some locals defied orders to evacuate amid Taal Volcano's activity.

However, Teofilo said "less than a thousand" still remain in the 14-kilometer danger zone, while several others attempt to return to their homes out of fear of being looted.

"Pabalikbalik kasi eh, minsan nailikas na, akala wala, biglang bumabalik so may nakakalusot na," he said.

[Translation: They come back and forth. Sometimes they've already been evacuated, but they suddenly return, so some pass through us.]

The police and the military has kept Talisay, one of the towns closest to Taal Volcano, off limits to people and will remain so until the volcano no longer poses a threat to public safety.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is overall in-charge of calamity response, also said in a Tuesday briefing that the government will bar people from going back to the island where Taal Volcano stands. He said the move has the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology chief Renato Solidum noted Wednesday that there should not be residents in the Taal Volcano Island as it is a “permanent danger zone.”

Phivolcs, in its latest bulletin, said that Taal Volcano is emitting less ash and steam, but they are still warning against a dangerous or hazardous explosion "within hours or days." Taal's activity may last from days to several months, based on its eruption history.

Taal Volcano began acting up on Sunday afternoon. The following day, a "weak" lava fountain also gushed out of the volcano in a magmatic eruption, state volcanologists said.