RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There is a volcanic threat in the Philippines. Scientists there are monitoring the Taal volcano, and they warn that despite emitting weaker plumes, there's still danger of a major eruption. More than 580 tremors have been detected in the area around Lake Taal, where the volcano sits, and a mass exodus is now underway. Here's NPR's Julie McCarthy.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The Philippine volcano has upended lives, killed countless animals, flattened entire plantations along Lake Taal - itself a product of a volcanic explosion eons ago. A perch on the lake's northern edge provides a panorama of the Taal volcano.
And I can see just over a ridge where the main crater is belching gas and steam. And as you stand before it, you know that you are looking at one of the mightiest powers in nature. You can taste the ash as it blows up.
The government has ordered 500,000 people in the worst affected province of Batangas to evacuate. Only 57,000 have reached evacuation centers like this one set up in an old drug rehabilitation center.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).
MCCARTHY: Nuns play with children who make up most of the 1,200 evacuees here. It's the latest center opened by the city of Tagaytay, which overlooks Taal volcano. Its high elevation is said to protect it from lethal flows that could erupt. New arrivals are streaming in every hour. Farmer Rufo Gamaro brought 61 people with him yesterday morning. He says volcanic ash blotted out the sun, and on the ground of their barrio, or barangay, it's knee-deep.
RUFO GAMARO: (Through interpreter) Our barangay was blanketed with so much ashfall that it was so dark that nobody could see where the roads are.
MCCARTHY: Gamaro is an elected councilor in the town of Laurel, one of the 12 municipalities for which the Interior Ministry issued evacuation orders yesterday. The neighborhood the 66-year-old Gamaro represents was the closest to the volcano.
GAMARO: (Speaking Tagalog).
MCCARTHY: Rufo is saying that he lost all the crops - the corn, the fruit, the vegetables - lost the animals - the pigs, the chickens, the cats and the dogs.
Were you able to save any of those animals?
Gamaro says that he returned to his home this week at great peril to feed the few that survived but discovered his fish farm destroyed and the fish all dead. Donations of food, diapers and clothing are being sorted in centers across the region. But the resources are stretched. Gamaro's group has no mattresses or blankets. Medic Genevive Dilig says people are arriving at the shelter with diarrhea, hypertension and fever. Hundreds of tremors have disrupted the water supply. Tap water is not drinkable.
Would you recommend that people bathe in the tap water here?
GENEVIVE DILIG: We don't necessarily recommend, but that, I think, is what they are doing.
MCCARTHY: But Jose Clyde Yayong, the local disaster management chief, is somehow optimistic.
JOSE CLYDE YAYONG: We are just lucky that we experienced this, and it will help us realize that preparing for any event that could happen overnight is very important.
MCCARTHY: A senior government official told NPR that President Rodrigo Duterte today is expected to declare a national state of calamity in the coming days. With a widening evacuee crisis unfolding, help cannot come soon enough. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Tagaytay, Philippines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.