With weakening Taal activity, some residents of Agoncillo, Laurel now allowed to go home

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) – Residents of the municipalities of Agoncillo and Laurel in Batangas were finally allowed to go home on Monday, a day after state seismologists announced the lowering of Taal Volcano's alert status to Level 3.

The provincial government of Batangas said in its 10am bulletin that the two municipalities are now open to residents, except for the following villages within the seven-kilometer radius of the volcano's crater.

- Barangay Bilibinwang, Agoncillo

- Barangay Subic Ilaya, Agoncillo

- Barangay Banyaga, Agoncillo

- Barangay Gulod, Laurel

- Barangay Buso-Buso, Laurel

- Barangay Bugaan East, Laurel

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Laurel Mayor Joan Amo said her first priority is to provide shelter and sources of livelihood to those affected by the volcano's eruption.

Entry is still strictly prohibited in areas over Taal Lake, some parts of Tanauan, and other communities west of the island within the danger zone.

The following villages in the Volcano Island are still on permanent lockdown:

- Sitio Tabla, Talisay

- Barangay San Isidro, Talisay

- Barangay Calawit, Balete

- Barangay Alas-as, San Nicolas

- Barangay Pulang Bato, San Nicolas

However, despite a ban that has been put in place preventing people from returning to these places, residents are still attempting to come back to retrieve animals and whatever they can take with them.

Because they want people out of the island at once, some Coast Guard personnel have been helping residents salvage what they can, in the hope that they will not return after. For now, the Coast Guard can only call out people who insist on coming to the Taal Volcano island, it has yet to be determined whether there is a need to arrest or accost them.

Taal Volcano continues its weak spewing of steam-laden plumes, according to state volcanologists.

In its 8am bulletin on Monday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Taal's activity in the past 24 hours has only been characterized by "weak to moderate emission of white steam-laden plumes" 50 to 800 meters high, with sulfur dioxide emission at an average of 87 tonnes per day.

Phivolcs also recorded 170 volcanic earthquakes and four low-frequency earthquakes in the past 24 hours.

"Phivolcs reminds the public that sudden steam-driven and even weak phreatomagmatic explosions, volcanic earthquakes, ashfall, and lethal volcanic gas expulsions can still occur and threaten areas within Taal Volcano Island and nearby lakeshores," the agency noted.

"People are also advised to observe precautions due to ground displacement across fissures, frequent ashfall and minor earthquakes," Phivolcs added.

On Sunday, Phivolcs lowered the alert status over Taal to Level 3, saying the tendency towards a hazardous eruption has decreased over the last two weeks. It raised Alert Level 4 – meaning a hazardous explosive eruption is imminent – on Jan. 12, when Taal belched ash that reached Metro Manila and some parts of Luzon. The next day, the volcano also spewed lava.

Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas had already allowed residents of Alitatag, Balete, Cuenca, Lemery, Lipa City, Malvar, Mataas na Kahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay and Tanauan City to go home following the lowering of the alert level.

READ: Taal status lowered to alert level 3, Agoncillo and Laurel still under lockdown 

He stressed however, that residents must be vigilant and ready to evacuate in an hour should Taal's alert level be raised anew.

A total of 394,094 residents from nearby areas were affected after the government earlier implemented a lockdown in the municipalities and cities in Batangas and Cavite. Of this number, 137,447 persons or 38,377 families were evacuated.

The Batangas provincial government has so far estimated the number of "totally damaged" houses to 22,000 which are up for resettlement.

READ: Around 22,000 houses 'totally damaged' by Taal eruption 

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council last recorded total damage to agriculture and infrastructure at ₱3.35 billion in Batangas, Laguna and Cavite.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education said the number of learners affected by the eruption has already decreased from seven million to 644,841 in the Calabarzon region.

Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon make up Calabarzon.

Classes from pre-school to high school remain suspended in Batangas with most schools still being used as evacuation centers. Meanwhile, classes in Tagaytay have already resumed on Monday.

READ: Classes from pre-school to high shool in Batangas remain suspended 

Phivolcs said it is still monitoringTaal's volcanic activity for two more weeks before it could consider downgrading its alert status to Level 2, meaning the volcano is exhibiting a moderate level of unrest.