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Officials block villagers as quakes shake Philippine volcano

LEMERY, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine volcano that erupted last weekend belched smaller plumes of ash but shuddered frequently with earthquakes Thursday, prompting authorities to block access to nearby towns due to fears of a bigger eruption.

A crater lake and nearby river on the Taal volcano dried up in signs of its continued restiveness, and officials have warned people against speculating that the five-day eruption is waning.

“We have a seeming lull, but, again, as we emphasized earlier, there is something different happening beneath the volcano,” Ma. Antonio Bornas of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology told reporters, citing continued tremors, steaming and other signs of magma movement.

Renato Solidum, who heads the institute, said it may take up to two weeks for experts to assess whether the volcano’s restiveness has eased.

The Taal area has remained just a notch down from the highest level of a five-step alert system the institute uses to warn the public of a volcano’s danger.

Soldiers and police blocked villagers from going back to the island volcano and nearby towns to retrieve belongings, poultry and cattle.

Many houses and farms have been damaged by volcanic ash since the eruption started Sunday, though no deaths or major injuries have been reported after tens of thousands of people evacuated.

A 65-year-old woman died of a heart attack while being moved out of Taal town in Batangas province but officials said she had been ill and may have been stressed by the calamity. Batangas province lies more than 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of the capital, Manila.

Amid warnings of a possible imminent and more dangerous eruption, police cordoned off at least four towns near shores of a lake that surrounds the volcano. The move sparked arguments with villagers.

“We’ve lost everything. Our house got damaged. But I need to retrieve my pots and cooking ware and other things. They should not be very, very strict,” 59-year-old Erlinda Landicho said.