Maria Evangeline Tenorio Sarmiento struggles to wade through ankle-deep mud and debris to reach her house that’s been inundated with thick sludge.
Inside, the 52-year-old mother of two finds the roof over her kitchen has collapsed under the weight of ashfall.
The once-blue walls are now smeared in a thick layer of gray ash. Her son is up on the roof scraping off the mud in an effort to stop the rest from caving in.
“It was totally destroyed. I only saw it yesterday. I saw our barangay (village) and can’t help but cry,” she told CNN from the ruined house in Laurel in the Philippine province of Batangas.
Sarmiento’s piggery – a new source of income for her – is gone. Her five pigs dead.
“How can we rebuild our lives? How can we start again? I don’t have money to use as capital again,” she said.
It’s a bleak prospect faced by many families in Batangas and Cavite who lost their homes and livelihoods when the Taal volcano – one of the Philippines’ most active – began erupting last Sunday, spewing ash up to 14 kilometers (9 miles) into the air and generating volcanic lightning.
Heavy charcoal-like ash rained down on towns and villages, blanketing everything. Houses and trees buckled under the weight of it. Affected areas had no power or fresh water.
Outside Sarmiento’s hourse, the once bustling markets are empty, the fields left untended, the lush trees now gray and lifeless.
Many people here made their living off the rich land around the volcano, from fishing in the lake or from the many tourists that visit each year.
The volcano, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of the capital Manila on the island of Luzon, is like a time bomb. Volcanologists warn a bigger eruption could be yet to come – but no one can predict when, or if, it will explode or settle back down.
Sarmiento was at the local fish market when she heard a loud thunder-like sound followed by thick smoke. Her home lies within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the volcano.
“We went home and I saw my children stuffing all our clothes inside our vehicle, forgetting to put them first inside luggage. We immediately went up to a higher ground,” she said, adding that they stayed with her sister in the nearby town of Santo Tomas.
Thousands like her fled their homes when Taal suddenly rumbled into life. Caught off guard, many sought shelter in temporary evacuation centers carrying only the clothes they were in with little to no possessions.
Seismic activity had been recorded at the volcano since March 2019, but that morning the alert level was at one – meaning a hazardous eruption was not imminent.
“The speed of escalation was unexpected,” said Mark Timbal, spokesperson for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).