Dako Paroon: A Journal of the Heritage Town of Taal Evacuated

The following account transcended from 12 January to 02 February 2020 with some stops, in relation to the town of Taal during the Taal Volcano Eruption episode. While it was already posted on Facebook, additional details were laid down here. This is based on the recreated accounts of different folks from the town of Taal and San Nicolas, updates on social media, and accounts of yours truly.

12 January 2020

  • 12 January 2020, Noontime: Taal Volcano initially erupted.
  • 12 January 2020, Afternoon: The eruption escalated quickly, declaring Alert Level 4 from 2 in less than 12 hours. Earthquakes rumble every now and then. Ash started falling around Greater Manila Area, particularly in upland towns of Cavite including Tagaytay and surrounding areas of Batangas.

13 January 2020

  • 13 January 2020, 3:00AM: The Mayor of Taal issued verbally urging all residents of Poblacion Taal and other affected barangays to evacuate, as ash-fall intensifies.
  • 13 January 2020 all night long: According to Maam Beth, one of the members of the Parish of San Martin de Tours Basilica, the night of the eruption they felt almost non-stop rumbling of quakes in the town. They can hear the roofs rustle and the earth rumble. Thunder and lightning illuminated the sky, even in far-away Lipa.
  • 13 January 2020, morning: As the sun rose, Taal woke up under the thick ash fall as residents evacuate. The ash cloud has shifted towards the town’s direction.
  • 13 January 2020, noontime: Rain fell. Making mud out of thick ash.
  • 13 January 2020, afternoon: Ash fall started to subside. Quakes still rumble.
Evacuees from Talisay town heading to a safe zone while passing by mud-drenched eastern parts of Tagaytay City.

14 January 2020

The day I headed personally to Taal town to see what has happened in the heritage town. Here were my accounts, mixed with others as well.

The Basilica de San Martin de Tours of Taal still being fixed when the volcano erupted.

  • 14 January 2020, morning: Our Lady of Caysasay was evacuated to the Archdiocese of Lipa. The Shrine is showing damages from frequent low intensity earthquakes that swarm the area. Fissures were reported in nearby Lemery town. PHIVOLCS issued a stern warning due to its appearance later that day.
  • 14 January 2020, 4:30PM: I have managed to enter the poblacion of Taal through Cuenca-Lipa route. No checkpoints except those in Agoncillo and San Nicolas. Poblacion and Barangay Balisong felt desolated—a ghost town, as most houses and shops were closed. 
  • Jeepney operations between Lemery and Lipa/Batangas City were still there. 
  • Some people went back to check things, clear the road and their roofs of thick ash.
  •  I was able to see some personnel of the LGU cleaning up the Municipal Hall and its plaza. 
  • The Basilica stood high and mighty still, although work in its conservation has been halted. 
  • The town was left abandoned still. The market was closed. 
  • No more noisy tricycles that ply on its streets. Caysasay Shrine was closed as it sustained partial damage. Earthquakes rumble every now and then.
  • 14 January 2020, 5:30PM: I left Taal through the diversion road and then through Lemery. It was not a smooth ride unlike from Lipa to Taal. The road was full of fissures, sometimes as high as half of my 5 foot 10 body. As I traversed Diokno Highway towards Tagaytay, I encountered more fissures in the first 10 kilometers from Lemery Junciton. It was all smooth sailing upon reaching Payapa area of Lemery. The night was falling, Tagaytay was dark and desolate.
Fissures occured in the Diversion Road near Lemery

Cleaning up the roof of ash. In some hard hit areas, some roofs have collapsed due to the weight of the ash.

Desolated heritage town of Taal. During the height of the volcanic eruption, it was evacuated and closed to the public and locals themselves.

Ash everywhere.

Taal Public Market is usually busy during the afternoons. This particular afternoon was an exemption. Take note of the ash has covered the concrete of the street.

15 January 2020

Goco Ancestral House and the ash laden roads

Ash laden monument

The Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay sustained partial damages due to the continued tremors brought by magma rising from the nearby Taal Volcano.

A closer view of the damage of the historic shrine of Caysasay.

  • 15 January 2020, noontime: As per Councilor June Matimtim of Taal, the town is now on lockdown. That means only the police, military, and other front-line civil services related to the municipal, provincial, and national disaster response, can enter the town. The public is advised to leave the town and evacuate.

26 January 2020

  • 26 January 2020, morning: We heard the news. After two weeks, Taal Volcano's Alert Level was lowered to three from four by PHIVOLCS citing decreased activity. However, the State Agency emphasized that tremors and movement of magma beneath continues and everyone has to be vigilant. Along with the downgrade was the gradual return of the residents who have evacuated within the 14 kilometer danger zone, except those in parts of Laurel, Agoncillo, some parts of Talisay and most especially Pulo (Volcano Island).
  • 26 January 2020, noontime: I had a meeting with travel writer Edgar Yap of EAZY Travel together with Christine and his friend from UA&P at Tagaytay. It was an opportunity checking out the caldera and Tagaytay. It was not the usual Tagaytay Sunday that I know of. The city looks desolate, grey, dusty, and somehow melancholic. However, some businesses opened up that day, luckily.
  • The caldera looks greyish brown. Settlements in Talisay and Laurel still looks abandoned despite the lifting of the lock down. Hoping things will gradually return to normalcy. 
Ash-laden rooftops of the evacuated town of Talisay as viewed from Tagaytay.

The main crater of Taal Volcanon was spewing steam and ash still.
Taal Volcano, several weeks after its unrest.

31 January 2020

  • 31 January 2020: According to the Rector Priest of the Shrine of Caysasay, the Virgin Mary image of Our Lady of Caysasay has returned home, after being evacuated from its Sanctuary days ago.

01 February 2020

My colleague and fellow heritage advocate Stephen Pamorada and I decided to go to Taal to deliver some goods. We were accompanied by Axel Catapang, one of the heritage advocates and a cultural worker for the town of Taal. The account happened between 2PM to 5PM of the said date.

Ash covered at Shrine of Caysasay,

Our Lady of Caysasay damage
Our Lady of Caysasay has been returned to its shrine, days after the unrest.

  • 2:30PM: We arrived Taal town through Lipa City. We parked beside Taal Public Market. It was still closed but the nearby restaurant was opened. We carried our goods to the Basilica with our masks on. The town was still dusty despite having no ash fall since the major eruption itself. Wind carries the ash to our eyes sometimes. It was blinding for a bit.
  • 3:00PM: We met Ate Beth with Axel and his cousin at the Basilica de San Martin de Tours. Gave them the goods. Ate Beth recounts her experience with the eruption and she hoped that it will all end soon. However, one of their company has mentioned that PHIVOLCS recorded an almost non-stop harmonic tremor around Taal Volcano, indicating magma movements. They'll remain vigilant in case they will be evacuated again.
  • 3:30PM: It was drizzling but thank goodness the weather was cool. We went to the Shrine of Caysasay to check what is going on there. We met the Shrine Rector of the Caysasay and announced that the Beloved Virgin Mary of Taal has returned home from its evacuation at Lipa Archdiocese.
  • He accounted that the church has sustained structural damage from the frequent tremors during Taal Volcano's eruption episode, particularly the skewed roof that now look more "multi-angular" than a straight roof. We also noted that the damage at the facade and its portico has gotten bigger as compared to my last visit on the 14th January.
  • Axel noted some cracks on the northern belfry side and some small fissures that run perpendicularly with the front portion of the church after they cleaned up the thick ash cover on the parking lot.
  • The rector priest was asking for help from the Cultural Agencies to expedite the inspection of the church, whether if it is still fit for Mass or in trouble of collapsing or major damage. He also said that despite the return of the image, he will still limit his Masses on Sundays due to the integrity of the church and the adjustment of the townsfolk after the long lock down.
  • 4:00PM: We left Caysasay and headed towards San Nicolas, the site of the second town of Taal.
Devotees have returned as the news spread of the Caysasay's return.
  • 4:30PM: While Taal was picking up, the barangays between San Nicolas and Taal were still covered mostly by ash. The road was littered with fissures and ashes. There was this one fissure that we have to carefully cross or the car may get damage. Good thing we managed unharmed--both us and the car.
  • We looked for the ruins of the old church of Taal, the one described in Thomas Hargrove's book. San Nicolas was the second site of Taal town which was abandoned in 1754--the year the volcano violently erupted.
Local fishermen were selling whatever they had given that their livelihood was adversely affected by the eruption and the fishing ban at the lake.
  • Parked at the newly-constructed San Nicolas "Baywalk" with the full view of the rough seas of Taal Lake and Pulo itself! Wow! The coastline was farther away, around 50 meters I guess from the old shoreline. Might be low tide though but the locals were there to see the island.

A family watches the serene Pulo (Volcano Island) from the shores of San Nicolas town, the second settlement of Taal.
Binintiang Malaki and ash being blown by Amihan from Pulo.

  • Amihan wind was strong. We could see the ash from Pulo being blown somewhere between Agoncillo and Laurel and perhaps even the mountain barangays of Lemery. The waters were choppy but there were small fishermen on the shore. The Coast Guard were guarding the waters though.

The ruins of the church of Saint Martin de Tours--the old Taal Church before it was abandoned in 1754.

San Nicolas was the second settlement of Taal. However, the 1754 eruption of the volcano forced its residents to evacuate and settle in nearby Caysasay, where the third settlement of Taal was established. The ruins is a reminder of the power of this volcano in changing its landscape.
  • I approached a local and ask how are the things. He said, "Manila was exaggerating! Everything is fine now. No earthquakes but we do not have the fish like we used to." I saw some young folks selling tilapia from the damaged fish pens. One of them said, "We have to do it. The livelihood is at standstill."
  • After the cool breeze, I headed towards the ruins of the old Taal Church. It was smaller than the current Basilica. Notably, it used coral stone for its walls. It was circular. Brain coral was used. Does this mean that Lago de Bombon, the old name of Taal Lake, was indeed salt water that turned fresh afterwards? If that's the case, the land where it stands is very dynamic and unstable.
  • Just as we leave San Nicolas, we noted a house just in front of the ruined church, damaged by the fissure created by the eruption. Indeed, the earth beneath Pansipit River Valley is dynamic and moving. The sun is setting. We're hoping for the best of the people in the area.
More photos here: