NOEL KING, HOST:
The Taal volcano in the Philippines is still spitting out ash, steam and lava. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated. And scientists say the ground is rumbling, which means magma is shifting underneath the volcano. So they're warning that a violent eruption is still possible. NPR's Julie McCarthy is just back from a tour of the volcano onboard a Philippines Air Force helicopter. Hey, Julie.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi there.
KING: What did you see from up there?
MCCARTHY: Well, the views were extraordinary, Noel. There are acres and acres of undisturbed ash. And it looks like someone has thrown a cashmere blanket over these slopes. It has this smooth, almost unreal appearance, except for these tiny little track marks. It looks like some - obviously some animal has scurried across this big sheet of beige color.
And then you bank around the other side of the island, and that surface is strafed with fissures, openings in the Earth. And there is no life left. The trees, the shrubs, the brush, they're stripped, they're motionless. And it looks like the vestiges of an atomic bomb. And on this flyover, I also saw hundreds of fish cages busted up along the shores of Taal Lake in which this volcano sits. The Agriculture Department announced today, look, Taal fish is safe for consumption if it's caught alive. A few days ago, the Health Department was saying just the opposite. So we're getting confusing messages.
KING: Confusing messages for people who are already in a state of disarray. I mean, many thousands...
MCCARTHY: That's right.
KING: ...Of people have been evacuated. How are they doing?
MCCARTHY: Well, 171,000 of them and counting have gone to evacuation centers. And, Noel, 94,000 are outside those centers. They went to relatives. But many of them are showing up at shelters to eat. And they're starting to get turned away. Now, imagine you're one of them scrounging around for food. All you can think about is getting back home.
But the authorities have imposed a strict lockout of the towns within the danger zone of the volcano. Brigadier General Marceliano Teofilo said by going back into the danger zone, people should think about the police and the soldiers working in the disaster zone.
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MARCELIANO TEOFILO: We are also risking our lives spearheading the implementation of this lockdown. If something happens, we will again be forced to rescue them.
MCCARTHY: One vice mayor said he was going to openly defy the order. He wants people to resume what he calls their normal lives. But authorities threatened mayors trying to skirt the stay away order with show cause orders. They do not want people returning home right now.
KING: I would imagine the biggest question here is whether scientists are saying they think this volcano is going to erupt again and when.
MCCARTHY: Well, that's exactly right. There seems to be this sense that - the scientist monitoring the volcano here say that Taal is swelling and that in the northeast corner, it has sunk. It looks as though the landscape is changing. It is changing. And that's ominous. It may look like it's waning from the outside, but what's happening underneath is what the problem is. They say magma is pushing up from the belly of the volcano.
A government geologist who was working in the field told me today that water along the shores of Lake Taal had receded some 75 yards on one side of the lake. He said it was indications of ground deformities. And I asked him how worried he was about another eruption. And he said, I'm very worried.
KING: Really scary stuff. NPR's Julie McCarthy in Manila. Thanks, Julie.
MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.