Philippine residents retrieve animals, belongings amid threat of volcano eruption

By Eloisa Lopez and Karen Lema

AGONCILLO, Philippines (Reuters) – Thousands of residents under orders to evacuate from a town near the Philippine volcano Taal were allowed to briefly visit homes on Friday to rescue their animals and recover some possessions, taking advantage of what appeared to be waning activity.

Daniel Reyes, mayor of the Agoncillo town inside the danger zone of the 311 meter (1,020 feet) volcano, said he allowed around 3,000 residents to check their properties and retrieve animals, clothes and other possessions.

“If I would not let them rescue their animals, their animals would die and together with them their sources of livelihood,” Reyes told Reuters.

A long line of cars, trucks, motorcycle taxis carrying pigs, dogs, television sets, gas stoves and electric fans, were seen leaving Agoncillo, among the towns blanketed in thick layers of volcanic ash.

“Our bodies are fine, but our minds and hearts are in pain”, said resident Peding Dawis, 63, while resting after taking his cows to safer areas.

Dawis said there were 200 more pigs that needed rescuing in his neighborhood.

“It’s hard to leave our homes and livelihood behind.”

More than 40,000 residents of Agoncillo have abandoned their homes since Taal, one of the Philippines’ most active and deadliest volcanoes, began spewing massive clouds of ash, steam and gas on Sunday, Reyes said.

The majority of residents are now staying with families elsewhere, but the rest are among a total of 66,000 people sheltering in evacuation centers.

SIGNS OF CALM

Taal has shown signs of calm since Thursday and Reyes said he took advantage of this window to allow residents to collect their belongings.

“Based on what I saw outside, I thought I would be doing them more good if I let them return to their homes,” Reyes said. “The help they are getting now is only momentarily”.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said it observed “steady steam emission and infrequent weak explosions” from the volcano’s main crater, but it continued to record dozens of earthquakes in nearby towns.

The institute said on Friday the danger level posed by the volcano remained at 4 out of a possible 5, meaning “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days”.

“We do not base the alert level simply on what we see on the surface. We have to try to interpret what is happening below,” Renato Solidum, Phivolcs’ chief, told CNN Philippines.

“There are sometimes waning activity but the activity below is still continuing.”

The impact of the volcano on the $330 billion national economy has been a blip, despite canceled flights and a day of work lost on Sunday because of a heavy ashfall in the capital Manila, 70 km (45 miles) away.

But for some of the farmers growing pineapples, bananas and coffee nearby it has been a disaster.

Volcanic ash has caused an estimated 3.06 billion pesos ($60.17 million) worth of damage to crops, livestock and fish farms, based on the latest data from the agriculture department.

Although Taal is one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, it can be deadly. An eruption killed more than 1,300 people in 1911.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Michael Perry)

Rumbling volcano shuts down Philippine capital

By Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA (Reuters) – Schools and businesses shut across the Philippine capital on Monday as a volcano belched clouds of ash across the city and seismologists warned an eruption could happen at any time, potentially triggering a tsunami.

Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes around Taal, one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, which spewed ash for a second day from its crater in the middle of a lake about 70 km (45 miles) south of central Manila.

Residents living near the errupting Taal Volcano evacuate in Lemery, Batangas City, Philippines, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

“The speed of escalation of Taal’s volcanic activity caught us by surprise,” Maria Antonia Bornas, chief science research specialist at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told reporters.

“We have detected magma. It’s still deep, it hasn’t reached the surface. We still can expect a hazardous eruption any time.”

Authorities warned that an eruption could send a tsunami surging across the lake.

More than 24,000 people have been evacuated from the volcanic island and the area immediately around it – normally a popular tourist spot.

“We got scared of what could happen to us, we thought the volcano was going to erupt already,” said Marilou Baldonado, 53, who left the town of Laurel with only two sets of clothes after she saw the huge ash cloud build.

Some tourists ignored the dangers and traveled to towns close to the volcano to get a better look.

Residents living near the errupting Taal Volcano evacuate in Agoncillo, Batangas City, Philippines, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience for us,” Israeli tourist Benny Borenstein told Reuters as he snapped photos of Taal from a vantage point in Tagaytay City, about 32 km away.

To the southwest of the volcano, the towns of Agoncillo and Lemery were coated by a thick layer of ash, making roads impassable.

Agoncillo’s mayor, Daniel Reyes, told DZMM radio some homes and part of a building had collapsed under the weight of the fallen ash.

In nearby Talisay Batangas, Vice Governor Mark Leviste said rain had turned ash to mud and trucks were needed to evacuate more people from remote communities.

“There is no power. Even water was cut, so we are in need of potable water,” he said. “We are in need of face masks.”

SHUT DOWN

In Manila, masks sold out quickly after residents were advised to wear them if they had to go out. Some wore handkerchiefs across their faces as they breathed air tainted by the smell of sulfur.

Streets that would normally be snarled with some of the world’s worst traffic were largely empty in the city of 13 million people.

Schools and government offices were closed on official orders. The stock exchange suspended trading and many private businesses shut for the day too.

Classes in some cities in the capital will remain suspended on Tuesday, officials said.

Lightning strike in the midst of Taal volcano explosion is seen in Lipa City, Philippines January 12, 2020 in this picture obtained from social media. Cheslie Andal/via REUTERS

Flight operations at Manila’s international airport partially resumed, authorities said, after more than 500 flights were delayed or canceled on Sunday.

One flight that did land carried President Rodrigo Duterte, who was coming back from his home city of Davao in the southern Philippines. He had been unable to fly on Sunday because visibility was so low.

One of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, most recently in 1977. An eruption in 1911 killed 1,500 people and one in 1754 lasted for a few months.

The island has been showing signs of restiveness since early last year.

The Philippines lies on the “Ring of Fire,” a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.

(Additional reporting by Peter Blaza; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Stephen Coates and Andrew Heavens)

Philippines bans two U.S. senators, mulls new visa rules for Americans

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has banned two U.S. lawmakers from visiting and will introduce tighter entry restrictions for U.S. citizens should Washington enforce sanctions over the detention of a top government critic, the president’s spokesman said on Friday.

President Rodrigo Duterte will impose a requirement on U.S. nationals to get visas should any Philippine officials involved in the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima be denied entry to the United States, as sought by U.S. senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy.

Duterte’s move comes after the U.S. Congress approved a 2020 budget that contains a provision introduced by the senators against anyone involved in holding de Lima, who was charged with drug offences in early 2017 after she led an investigation into mass killings during Duterte’s notorious anti-drugs crackdown.

“We will not sit idly if they continue to interfere with our processes as a sovereign state,” Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a regular news conference.

The Philippines grants visa-free entry for up to 30 days to Americans, 792,000 of whom visited in the first nine months of 2019, nearly 13% of foreign arrivals, government data showed.

The U.S. embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Panelo said travel restrictions over de Lima’s detention were nonsense because she was not wrongfully imprisoned but detained pending trial for crimes.

“The case of Senator de Lima is not one of persecution but of prosecution,” he said.

Duterte makes no secret of his disdain for the United States and what he considers its hypocrisy and interference, though he admits that most Filipinos and his military have high regard for their country’s former colonial ruler.

The United States is the Philippines biggest defense ally and its main source of Western influence. Millions of Filipinos have relatives who are U.S. citizens.

De Lima, a justice minister in a former administration, on Wednesday expressed what she described as overwhelming gratitude to the U.S. Congress for its help.

She has won numerous awards from human rights groups, who consider her a prisoner of conscience.

She has constantly spoken out against Duterte and been calling for an international investigation into his war on drugs, in which thousands of people have been killed.

Police say those killed were drug dealers who resisted arrest, but activists believe many of the killings were murders.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)

Christmas typhoon kills at least 13 in Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) – A typhoon that struck the central Philippines over Christmas has killed at least 13 people, disaster agency officials said on Thursday.

Typhoon Phanfone hit the Philippines late on Tuesday with winds of up to 120 kph (75 mph) and gusts of 150 kph, heavy rain and flooding.

More than 58,000 people were evacuated from their homes before the storm, which caused widespread property damage, and more than 15,000 were stranded at ports when ferries were suspended. Scores of flights were canceled.

The fatalities were in the central provinces of Capiz, Iloilo and Leyte, including a 13-year-old boy who was electrocuted, a man killed by a tree branch and another killed in a car accident, the disaster agency said.

The typhoon left the Philippines on Wednesday night and was out over the South China Sea, moving west.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, with storms becoming fiercer in recent years.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty)

Eleven dead, 300 treated after drinking coconut wine in Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) – At least 11 people have been killed and more than 300 treated in hospital after drinking coconut wine in the Philippines, including some who were celebrating at a Christmas party, health and local authorities said on Monday.

The poisoning occurred in Laguna and Quezon, two provinces south of Manila, and all had consumed lambanog, a drink popular in provinces and consumed widely during holidays and celebrations.

Many were admitted to hospitals on the urging of mayor Vener Munoz in Rizal, Laguna, where the deaths occurred between Thursday and Sunday.

Two people who had been in critical condition were improving, he told local radio. The coconut wine that was consumed had been made in his town, he added.

Blood tests and samples of leftover lambanog would be collected and analyzed on Monday, the Department of Health said.

“All had a sad history of lambanog ingestion,” the department said, referring to those poisoned.

“Some bought for leisure drinking and birthday party, while others were donated by local officials during their Christmas party.”

Unregulated production and sales of lambanog are common in the Philippines, and it is often made illegally with dangerous additives.

The country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously warned about the dangerous and prohibited use of methanol as an additive in home brews.

A year ago, the FDA and police were deployed to locate and confiscate unregistered lambanog that was being openly sold to the public, and threatened to prosecute sellers.

Twenty-one people died after consuming lambanog last year, media reported.

(Reporting by Martin Petty and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Philippines’ 6.5 earthquake kills at least five

Rescue workers assist residents evacuating from a condominium building that sustained heavy damage after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines, October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Philippines’ 6.5 earthquake kills at least five
MANILA (Reuters) – A magnitude 6.5 earthquake rocked southern Philippines still reeling from two strong tremors this month, killing at least five people and causing previously damaged buildings and homes to collapse.

The integrity of several buildings and homes on Mindanao have already been weakened by a 6.3 earthquake that struck on Oct. 16 and another 6.6 quake on Oct. 29.

A social welfare officer said five people in North Cotabato province died due to the quake, including a village chief when the office wall collapsed on him. This brought the number of killed to 20 in the series of tremors since Oct. 16.

The latest quake occurred 33 km (20 miles) northeast of Tulunan town in Cotabato province, which lies west of Davao City, where President Rodrigo Duterte was when it happened. His spokesman, Salvador Panelo said the Philippine leader is safe.

Police rescued 9 people who were injured after the bottom floor of a mid-rise condominium in Davao collapsed, DZMM radio reported.

In nearby Kidapawan city, a six-storey hotel collapsed, but there was no one inside, Mayor Joseph Evangelista told DZMM radio.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) advised the people to remain outside their homes and offices given the possibility of more and stronger aftershocks.

“Buildings could be totally knocked out”, said Erlinton Olavere, a science research specialist at Phivolcs.

Earthquakes are common in the Philippines, which is on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

Duterte’s office has directed all agencies and local government units to provide the necessary assistance and immediate relief to those affected.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Tom Hogue & Shri Navaratnam)

Death toll in southern Philippines earthquake rises to seven

A damaged local town hall is seen in Mabini, Davao Del Sur, Philippines after a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck Octiber 29, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Jaypee Catalan via REUTERS

Death toll in southern Philippines earthquake rises to seven
By Karen Lema

(Reuters) – The death toll from a strong earthquake in the southern Philippines has risen to seven, disaster and police officials said on Tuesday, as aftershocks continued to jolt many parts of Mindanao.

The 6.6 magnitude quake hit early on Tuesday, damaging buildings, toppling power lines and triggering landslides in the central area of the Philippines’ southern island.

A seven-year-old child and his 44-year old father were among those who were killed in the North Cotabato province after they were struck by a boulder, disaster officials said.

Authorities said the death toll could rise further because many injured were not immediately brought to hospitals.

“It was depressing to see the damage left by the earthquake,” Abril Espadera, a disaster official in North Cotabato, told Reuters, as he recalled seeing collapsed homes and demolished buildings in the province, including schools.

Smaller tremors rattled nervous residents throughout the day and those who were afraid to return to their homes set up tents to shelter near school yards, Espadera said.

In Magsaysay town in Davao del Sur province, rescuers were trying to recover three bodies after landslides in two separate towns swallowed parts of agricultural areas, police said.

The quake, whose magnitude was initially put at 6.7 by the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, was the second powerful quake to strike Mindanao in two weeks.

Authorities had flagged the risk of landslides after the 6.3 quake on Oct. 16 in central Mindanao that killed seven and injured more than 200.

Earthquakes are common in the Philippines, which is on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

Power cables swayed in Davao city, the home town of President Rodrigo Duterte, where people rushed to open spaces, and some fainted out of fear. The quake also triggered power cuts in nearby General Santos city, media said.

Some schools in the area have suspended classes.

Duterte’s office has called for calm as it mobilized all government agencies to undertake damage assessment and to coordinate rescue and relief operations.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Bernadette Baum)

Strong quake in Philippines kills one, injures dozens

Rubble is seen on a floor of a hotel in the aftermath of an earthquake in Kidapawan City, Philippines October 16, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. NARU GUARDA CABADDU/via REU

By Neil Jerome Morales and Peter Blaza

MANILA (Reuters) – A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the southern Philippines on Wednesday, killing at least one child and injuring more than two dozen other people.

Government authorities were starting to receive reports from field officials on the island of Mindanao where the earthquake struck, opening cracks in buildings and homes, sending residents running from shops and offices and knocking power out.

“Our hospital chief reported that a child died because of the earthquake,” Reuel Limbungan, mayor of Tulunan town in North Cotabato province, told the DZMM radio station. Two more people were injured, he added.

The earthquake also shook Davao City, the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte and among the most populous cities in the country.

In Magsaysay town, in the nearby province of Davao del Sur, 20 people were injured by falling debris and home furniture, Anthony Allada, the municipality’s information officer, told DZMM.

“Many houses were totally damaged… Another person is in a critical condition,” Allada said.

The municipality of M’lang, in Cotabato province, reported three injuries, Vice Mayor Joselito Pinol told DZMM radio.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck 69 km (43 miles) north-northwest of the city of General Santos, Mindanao at 7:39 p.m. (1137 GMT). The epicentre was about 80 km southwest of central Davao.

“We felt a very strong jolt and there was a blackout. I saw people rushing down. We were panicking, heading to the exit,” said Naru Guarda Cabaddu, a hotel consultant visiting Kidapawan City, between the epicentre of the quake and Davao.

The Philippines is on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire and experiences frequent earthquakes.

“I was driving back home when I felt a very powerful shake. I stopped and saw people and patients running out of the hospital,” Raprap Rafael, a resident of Kidapawan City, told Reuters. “I’m not sleeping at my home tonight.”

Renato Solidum, head of the Philippines seismic agency, told the ANC news channel there was a chance of aftershocks, which could be strong and capable of causing severe damage.

“Aftershocks can happen. Some can be felt most likely in low intensities. But we cannot remove the possibility of similar intensities that can be felt in the epicentral area,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Peter Blaza; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Alison Williams and Alex Richardson)

U.S. records 33 new measles cases, raising year’s total to 1,077

FILE PHOTO: A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 33 new measles cases last week, bringing the number of confirmed cases this year to 1,077 in the worst outbreak of the virus since 1992, federal health officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease rose 3% in the week ended June 20 from the prior week. The 2019 outbreak, which has spread to 28 states, is the worst since 1992, when 2,126 cases were recorded.

Health experts say the virus has spread among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease. A vocal fringe of U.S. parents, some in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, cite concerns that the vaccine may cause autism, despite scientific studies that have debunked such claims.

The disease has mostly affected children who have not received the vaccine.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning there was no continuous transmission of the disease for a year. Still, cases of the virus occur and spread via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

CDC officials have warned that the country risks losing its measles elimination status if the ongoing outbreak, which began in October 2018 in New York, continues until October 2019.

The outbreak has escalated since 82 people in 2018 and more than 40 people in 2019 brought measles to the United States from other countries, most frequently Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, federal officials said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Susan Thomas)

Philippines sends trash back to Canada after Duterte escalates row

Philippine customs officials inspect cargo containers containing tonnes of garbage shipped by Canada at Manila port November 10, 2014. Mandatory credit BAN Toxics/Handout via REUTERS

By Ronn Bautista

SUBIC, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines has started returning dozens of shipping containers full of trash to Canada after a long-running row over waste exports that has tested diplomatic ties amid threats from firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte.

The 69 containers were loaded overnight onto a vessel at the port of Subic, northwest of Manila, and left on Friday for a month-long journey to the Canadian city of Vancouver.

A Philippine court in 2016 declared the import of 2,400 tonnes of Canadian waste illegal. It had been mislabeled as plastics for recycling.

Canada said the waste, exported to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014, was a private commercial transaction done without the government’s consent.

“The government of Canada is taking all the necessary measures to ensure safe and environmentally sound transport, handling and disposal of the waste in Canada,” Mark Johnson, spokesman for Canada’s environment and climate change ministry, said in an email statement.

The Philippines had accused Canada of stalling, prompting angry rebukes from Duterte, a volatile but hugely popular president known for his tirades against Western governments.

He threatened to declare war on Canada, dump the trash in front of its embassy in Manila, or personally sail with the waste and leave it in Canadian waters.

His spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said he hoped ties with Canada would now return to normal.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said diplomats whom he had ordered to leave Canada in protest had now been told to return. Locsin posted a picture on Twitter on Friday of the ship departing Subic, with the message “Baaaaaaaaa bye”.

The Philippines is the latest Southeast Asian nation to take issue with developed nations they say use the region as a dumping grounds for waste.

Malaysia, the world’s main destination for plastic waste after China, said on Tuesday it would return as much as 3,000 tonnes of waste back to the countries of origin.

Environmental activists gathered in Subic as the containers were being prepared, holding banners that said “never again” and “we are not the world’s dump site.”

Some carried cardboard boxes made to look like shipping containers bearing signs that read “good riddance” and “Canada take back your trash”.

“The waste trade is a very unacceptable practice. It is a deplorable practice,” Greenpeace Philippines director Lea Guerrero told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in MANILA; Editing by Martin Petty and Darren Schuettler)