Tagaytay: Ash, Desolation, Hope

On January 12, 2020, the Taal Volcano erupted, spewing ash that fell down on nearby towns and even in cities as far as Metro Manila. The eruption, which produced a 100-meter ash column with some lava hours after, prompted the government to raise alert levels, forced the evacuation of residents, and grounded planes.

Contrary to its seemingly calm disposition and the picturesque views it provides, the Taal Volcano is the second-most active volcano in the Philippines. The volcano lies in the middle of Taal Lake, which is actually a caldera formed when a larger volcano erupted thousands of years ago. Since then, the volcano, a complex of several craters, has had a number of eruptions. The strongest was recorded in 1911, claiming hundreds of lives and resulting in changes in the volcano’s appearance. Due to its volatile nature and proximity to residential areas, the Taal Volcano is considered a Decade Volcano by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior.

The most famous site around Taal Lake is Tagaytay, a popular getaway for Metro Manila crowds due to its location overlooking the lake and its proximity to the capital. But today, it feels virtually a ghost town with most establishments closed and many residents having fled to various evacuation centers. Those who stayed are busy sweeping off ashes or trying to maintain a semblance of a normal life.

But nothing is normal in a place where fields have turned into blankets of dust and where once lively places are now abandoned. Numerous hotels and guesthouses that were surrounded by verdant greens are now drowned by seas of gray. The popular Starbucks branch affording a beautiful view of the lake is closed, with nary a soul except for workers spraying off the ashes in the parking lot. The popular Picnic Grove is empty except for a security guard dozing off at the gate. Its concrete paths are lined with ash-covered trees and littered with dead leaves. With the Ferris wheel towering over, I half-expect a zombie to come out of the bend.

One week after its eruption, the Taal Volcano seems to have settled down a bit. But a thick pillar of smoke is still coming out of its western crater. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) still maintains a Level 4 warning, which means an eruption is imminent. Volcanic eruptions are by nature unpredictable, so there’s no telling whether there’s a larger eruption still waiting to happen or the worst is already over.

Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that the eruption has forever changed Tagaytay and the other towns around the lake. This natural occurrence displaced people and affected their livelihood, and the political, social, and economic repercussions, while unknowable as of the moment, will certainly be significant. But like a phoenix, people will rise from, well, the ashes. In the meantime, we can only wait, hope, and – for the faithful – pray.

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