Taal Volcano spewed a massive cloud of ash into the sky on Sunday, forcing the precautionary evacuation of thousands of residents and a hold on all flights to and from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised Alert Level 4 (imminent hazardous eruption within hours or days) over Taal Volcano in Batangas due to increased volcanic activity and a powerful explosion in the afternoon as well as volcanic lightning.
Phivolcs recorded continuous volcanic tremor while two volcanic earthquakes were felt in Tagaytay City and in Alitagtag, Batangas.
“Phivolcs strongly reiterates total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and additional evacuation of areas at high risk to pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami within a 14-kilometer radius from Taal Main Crater. Areas in the general north of Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ash fall. Civil aviation authorities must advise aircraft to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft.”
Classes at all levels in Manila, Taguig and Cavite were suspended for Monday, as ash fall was reported in parts of Metro Manila.
The Philippine National Police raised its security alert status over Batangas and other high risk areas and said it was ready to help evacuate residents in coordination with local government officials.
Government seismologists recorded magma moving towards the crater of Taal, one of the country’s most active volcanoes located 65 kilometers south of Manila.
That increases the chances of an eruption that could happen “within days to within weeks” if such activity continues, said Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum.
Such an eruption would be “more dangerous,” he said, noting that the last time Taal erupted was in October 1977.
A kilometer-high column of ash was visible and several volcanic tremors were felt within the vicinity of the volcano, which is popular among tourists for its scenic view.
The local disaster office said it had evacuated over 2,000 residents living on the volcanic island, which lies inside a bigger lake formed by previous volcanic activity.
Solidum said officials will also order the evacuation of people living on another island nearby if the situation worsens.
Earthquakes and volcanic activity are not uncommon in the Philippines due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide deep below the Earth’s surface.
In January 2018, Mount Mayon displaced tens of thousands of people after spewing millions of tons of ash, rocks, and lava in the central Bicol region.
Phivolcs said increased steaming activity was observed in at least five spots inside the main crater on Sunday afternoon, accompanied by volcanic tremors and three earthquakes.
Ash fall was seen in Tagaytay, Silang, Carmona, Silang and General Mariano Alvarez in Cavite, Agoncillo and Laurel Batangas, Sta. Rosa and Binan, Laguna, Phivolcs said.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the concerned national government agencies to ensure the safety of the people in the area.
The agencies are also working closely with the provincial government of Batangas to move people out of the danger zone, said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said local police units in Region IV have been ordered to prohibit entry of people into the island and other high-risk areas of Agoncillo and Laurel.
Local police units around the Taal Lake shore were also ordered to coordinate with their respective local government units. With AFP