Risking lives to rescue horses in ‘no man’s land’
BALETE, Batangas, Philippines — The horses were still caked in grey ash as they stepped off the boat, lucky beneficiaries of a risky rescue mission to ground zero of the Taal Volcano eruption.
Their owners are among many small operators who rely on the modest money generated by the beasts ferrying tourists up the volcano, a popular attraction ringed by a sweeping lake.
But when the volcano exploded to life on Sunday the people who own hundreds of steeds on Volcano Island had to flee without the prized livestock and most of their possessions.
Scores of animals killed
“Our lives are in our horses, they’re how we make our living,” owner Alfredo Daet, 62, said on Tuesday after bringing three of his four animals to the mainland.
“We love our horses… that’s why we wanted to save them,” he added.
The creatures can generate $7 (around P350) each per trip up to the stunning panoramic views above the volcano’s main crater, a significant sum in a nation where millions survive on less than $2 (P100) a day.
Scores of other farm animals on the island, like cows and goats, were killed in the eruption.
In returning to the island, now blanketed in a deep layer of fine volcanic ash, the men defied a mandatory evacuation order and risked their lives.
Authorities have warned a stronger, potentially catastrophic eruption could come at any time, yet that has not stopped multiple groups of desperate locals from making the trip.
“If we let the horses die (on the island), we will be the ones that lose in the end,” another owner, Pejay Magpantay, said after 11 of his family’s 14 beasts were saved.
In a statement, the Department of the Interior and Local Government on Wednesday said animal rescues within the 14-kilometer high-risk area would be allowed on a “case-to-case basis” and should have proper coordination with local disaster authorities.
Despite being home to one of the most active volcanoes in a nation plagued by earthquakes and eruptions, people are allowed to visit and live there.
Volcano Island is classified a “permanent danger zone,” according to government volcanologists.
It is a 23-square-kilometer island that lies inside a bigger lake formed from previous volcanic activity. Together they are among the most spectacular sights and popular tourist destinations in the Philippines.
Yet Taal Volcano has a deadly past.
It has erupted dozens of times since 1572, the most destructive of which was in 1911 when it killed some 1,300 people and sent ash falling on to Manila. Its last major eruption came in 1977.
Recently, the volcano has been putting on a stunning and terrifying display, including an ash cloud illuminated with lightning bolts.
It spewed ash and steam up to 15 km into the sky.
Since the latest bout of activity, there have been calls to keep people, once and for all, from living on the island.
“I strongly recommend that we implement the suggestion that… Taal (Volcano) will be declared ‘no man’s land,’” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on Tuesday
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