Nine days after Taal Volcano erupted and forced more than 150,000 people to evacuate their homes, some of the displaced residents want life to return to normal and are venting their ire on the country’s scientists. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has maintained Alert Level 4 since January 12, meaning a “hazardous explosive eruption” is possible in hours or days. It said all areas within 14km of Taal should be evacuated. But on Monday, Talisay vice-mayor Charlie Natanuan urged people to return to town, saying that in his opinion, “what Phivolcs said is wrong”. Speaking in Tagalog, he said: “Now this eruption, it’s like venting off, it didn’t produce lava, this means pressure is low.” He said he based his views on his many years of living near the volcano, and was going to ask Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to “somewhat change Phivolcs’ opinion because they’ve made things worse in the news”. The vice-mayor expressed doubts about the institute’s eruption warning, saying “no scientist has ever been able to predict an eruption”. He also questioned the Phivolcs director, asking “who is he, God?” In the ridge line city of Tagaytay, famous for its spectacular view of Taal lake and the volcano, mayor Agnes Delgado-Tolentino approved a resolution allowing establishments to reopen and serve residents and tourists. Part of Tagaytay is within the danger zone and the city, which is normally bustling with tourists, has been deserted since the eruption, with dozens of its hotels and scores of restaurants closed. But despite this, Jonathan Domingo, a resident of Tagaytay, said the city is “quiet, a lot of the establishments are still not open … everyone is in ‘wait and see’ mode”. Taal Volcano has not been active for days now, with “just a white cloud of smoke coming out, kind of looks like steam”, he said. Life near Taal Volcano was ‘like having gun pointed at residents’, officials say “It seems to me they think Tagaytay is pretty much safe and is ready to go back to normal as soon as possible,” said Domingo. He added that he “mostly” agrees with that. On Monday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) executive director said that while Tagaytay is out of reach of any eruption “base surge” (a fast moving hot toxic cloud expanding across the surface of the lake), it could still be affected by heavy ash fall. Without the Phivolcs warning, I’d feel safe … my gut feel says it’s OK. Taal resident Ramon Castillo Last week, a congressman said Phivolcs should be investigated for its alleged failure to predict the eruption. Newspaper columnist Abigail Valte commented that this was “one of the stupidest things” she had ever heard. “They asked why no warning was given about the explosion. The answer is simple: like earthquakes, no one can predict volcanic eruptions. Repeat after me: no one can predict volcanic eruptions.” It’s this unpredictability that many find frustrating. “Some of the residents want to go back, others say, maybe it should erupt already so we can get it over with,” said medical doctor Ramon Castillo, a resident of Taal who evacuated his home the day after the eruption, taking only his clothes with him. Staying at a friend’s house in the municipality of Balayan a safe distance away, he said he drove back to his house two days later to check for damage, staying up to 10 hours. Many other residents have been doing this: local authorities call these “window hours” – a window of opportunity for displaced residents to visit their homes. Taal Volcano: 82,000 displaced as danger zones become ‘ghost towns’ Castillo said he found his house was still standing, with only a little ash fall on the terrace. The area was deserted. For days, he and his wife went “back and forth” before deciding to sleep over on Saturday night. “There was nothing, no earthquakes, there was water and electricity and the internet.” Just as they were settling down on Sunday, there were several small earthquakes, followed by a strong one, and they decided to evacuate again. Their decision was affirmed by the mayor’s announcement on Facebook that it was no longer safe and he was withdrawing the police to a safer distance. It’s not normal, definitely, with Alert Level 4, but people are trying to get along with their lives. Tagaytay resident Jonathan Domingo Castillo said he was conflicted over the situation. “Without the Phivolcs warning, I’d feel safe … my gut feel says it’s OK.” But he said he intended to follow the government agency’s warning “because there’s nobody else”. He said he’d heard that in other parts of the area there had been looting attempts, but they could not get into the empty houses. “Those are just material things, we can recoup that,” he said. In Tagaytay, Domingo said people are trying to resume their normal lives. “It’s not normal, definitely, with Alert Level 4, but people are trying to get along with their lives. “It seems the authorities have made a pronouncement that those over the ridge and beyond are safe and not part of the high risk areas, so that’s what people are really confused about, [because] we heard some villages were under mandatory evacuation,” he said. Reacting to vice-mayor Natanuan’s comments, Domingo said Phivolcs are “the scientists and the experts” and he would rather listen to them. “I appreciate that the vice-mayor may have had decades of experience living beside the volcano – but I trust the science,” Domingo said.