The Philippines has lowered the alert level at Taal Volcano, two weeks after it began spewing ash, steam and rocks, in a move that could allow many of the 376,000 villagers displaced by its activity to return home.
A popular tourist destination just south of Manila because of its picturesque setting in the middle of a lake, Taal erupted on Jan. 12. It caused no known deaths but delivered a crisis for one of the world's most disaster-prone nations.
"Taal volcano's condition in the two weeks has generally declined into less frequent volcanic earthquake activity, decelerated ground deformation and weak steam and gas emissions at the main crater," the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.
The government's agency lowered the alert level from 4 to 3, which means there is a "decreased tendency toward a hazardous eruption." The highest, level-5, alert indicates a major, much more dangerous, eruption.
The agency also reduced to half the danger zone where residents must be evacuated, from the 14-kilometre (8.7-mile) radius around the volcano. Taal last erupted 43 years ago.
Mayor Daniel Reyes of Agoncillo, a town along the western shores of Taal Lake overlooking the island where the volcano lies, said he was relieved but remained concerned. Residents of Agoncillo and nearby Lemery could still not return home because of the towns’ proximity to the volcano.
"It's somehow a relief but we're still under a total lockdown," Reyes said, adding all the 44,000 villagers of his town will remain in evacuation centres.