VILLAGERS whose homes were buried in two feet of volcanic ash have ignored warnings of a worse eruption to come as they returned home to save their animals.
Farmers carried pigs, horses, cows and birds to safety on small canoes after hundreds of livestock and pets were killed by the eruption of Mount Taal in the Philippines.
Stark pictures showed lush green islands around Lake Taal turned to grey desert with smashed trees and houses coated in knee-deep dust.
Tens of thousands of people fled as the volcano began spitting out lava and ash on Sunday.
But their animals could not escape, and heartbreaking images show the corpses of cows and horses poking through the black sludge on land or floating in the sea.
Thousands of dead fish also litter the shoreline after toxic ash rained down from a nine-mile-high mushroom cloud.
Police and coast guard officers are enforcing an evacuation zone as the eruption continues for a fourth day.
Scientists warned a further “explosive eruption” could strike any moment, triggering lava flows and even a tsunami, while rain could cause deadly mudslides.
But some villagers risked arrest as well as their lives as they paddled back to the foot of the volcano to salvage what they could.
Miraculously, some animals survived and were seen caked in ash as they were taken off the islands to safety.
Pet dogs abandoned by their owners were also saved by volunteers and taken to shelters outside the danger zone.
Other villagers dug out treasured possessions from under feet of ash as they surveyed the wrecks of their homes after 460 earthquakes hit in three days.
Boatman Melvin Mendoza, 39, told the New York Times: “We had happy memories here.
“The island sustained our livelihoods, but also took everything back. Everything’s gone in the blink of an eye.”
Meanwhile, worshippers in nearby Alitagtag performed a traditional Subli ritual prayer calling for the eruption to cease.
Many locals made their living by offering boat trips to tourists.
The area is a popular holiday destination, especially for citydwellers from Manila who enjoyed swimming in the lake and hiking up the volcano.
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Busy lakeside resorts such a Talisay and Tagaytay have been put on lockdown by police who are enforcing a total evacuation in some areas.
Some 44,000 people are being houses in more than 200 shelters.
But experts say half a million people living within nine miles of the peak are in danger and should be moved.