Manila, Philippines(CNN) Philippine officials are appealing to residents not to return to their homes in the danger zone of an erupting volcano as it continues to spew plumes of ash and lava fountains, with earthquakes regularly shaking the ground.
The Taal Volcano, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of the capital Manila on the island of Luzon, began erupting on Sunday, sending ash up to nine miles (14 kilometers) into the air and prompting warnings of a possible “explosive eruption” and large-scale evacuations.
As of Tuesday, almost 20,000 people from Batangas and Cavite provinces have sought shelter in 118 temporary evacuation centers set up by authorities. The total number of evacuees is likely to be higher, with some choosing to stay with family members and relatives in other parts of the country.
Officials, however, said a number of residents were beginning to return to their homes close to the volcano to tend farms, livestock or fetch personal belongings.
Many people depend on the lake and land around the volcano for their livelihood. Their dilemma is whether to risk their lives by returning or their primary sources of income by staying in a shelter for an unknown period of time.
“If you were this person and think ‘well all I know for sure is I have three cows, seven goats and some soy beans and I don’t go back and take care of them, I know I’m screwed,’ than someone telling you to stay away for two weeks and maybe nothing happens — you’re in trouble anyway,” said Joseph Michalski, director of the Earth and Planetary Science division at the University of Hong Kong.
There are two concentric zones of concern around the volcano. Around 459,000 people reside within a dangerous zone within a 14-kilometer (8.6 miles) radius around the volcano, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), while more than 930,000 people live in a wider 17-kilometer (10.5 miles) danger zone.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has requested a “total evacuation” of everyone within the larger 17-kilometer (10.5 miles) radius around the volcano.
Mariton Bornas, chief of volcano monitoring and eruption at PHIVOLCS said residents within the immediate radius would be at risk of tremors, fissures and the threat of a sudden pyroclastic flow.
The institute recorded 335 earthquakes in the area of the volcano since Sunday and said more activity is expected in the next few days.
“These new strong, continuous earthquakes that we are now experiencing are due to fissuring, which means that there really is magma that is still making its way out of Taal,” Bornas said.
“PHIVOCS strongly reiterates the need for the evacuation of Volcano Island, Taal Lake and the high-risk areas surrounding the volcano … located within the immediate 14-kilometer radius from the main crater,” she continued.