The Taal Volcano south of Manila could erupt again in coming days, officials warned Monday after a weekend blast sent ash into the sky, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and authorities to close schools and government offices in around the Philippine capital.
Emissions from the volcano in Batangas province, about 100 km (62 miles) south of Manila, blanketed many areas in ash on Sunday, causing Manila’s main airport to cancel flights. More than 10,000 families have been evacuated from surrounding towns, according to officials.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised the volcano status to Alert Level 4 of a 5-level system and advised residents across the lakeshore communities fronting it to evacuate immediately. The volcano is an island near the middle of Taal Lake.
“This means that hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days,” Phivolcs said on its webpage, announcing the raising of the alert level.
Maria Antonia Bornas, the chief of the Phivolcs’ monitoring division, described Taal’s activity to reporters.
“The closest we can compare a hazardous eruption of Taal Volcano is with an atomic bomb explosion – the appearance of it, not the energy,” Bornas said Monday.
“You have a towering eruption column and a ring surrounding its base. This ring is called the base surge, it crosses the lake and can affect surrounding towns. The base surge is the primary hazard,” she said.
San Nicolas town resident Ricardo Barrion returned home on Monday to find devastation.
“Our house was covered with mud while our farm animals died. We have spent years in building our home, and now it’s gone. We have nothing left,” he told reporters.
The Philippine branch of Save the Children reported that authorities continued to evacuate people living within the 14-km (9-mile) danger zone over the last 24 hours.
“We are deeply concerned for the health and safety of the families in that area, especially children who are most vulnerable to health risk from the volcanic ash and ash fall rain,” said Alberto Muyot, the NGO’s chief executive officer.
Taal has displayed a state of unrest with a series of mild earthquakes over the last year. As of Monday night, the Philippine Seismic Network had recorded more than 140 volcanic earthquakes since Sunday, according to Phivolcs.
While video footage showed the Taal crater spewing a fountain of lava, government chief volcanologist Renato Solidum explained it did not mean that the active volcano was in the midst of a “hazardous explosive eruption.”
“These kinds of hazards have happened during major eruption events, such as in the 1960s and 1911 eruptions. It’s not that high compared to typical earthquake tsunami in open seas, but this can damage and impact people if they are on the shore,” Solidum told reporters in Manila.
“We haven’t yet seen the hazards of the 1965, 1911 and 1754 eruptions manifested in the Taal Volcano. If it is a hazardous eruption, we will see flows of ash, rocks and gas at speeds of more than 60 kph (37 mph) horizontally and that can move across the lake,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo Jr. said government agencies had been directed to work with local officials to ensure the safety of the people in affected areas.
“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has already given instructions to undertake measures necessary to place the people within the perimeter of Taal out of the danger zone,” Panelo said in a statement Sunday.
“The palace is closely monitoring the situation of the Taal Volcano. We advise the public to continue to remain vigilant,” he said.
The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates collide causing seismic and volcanic activity.
In January 2018, the same alert level was raised for the Mayon Volcano in Albay province when it erupted.
The worst volcano tragedy in recent years occurred in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo in the northern Philippines’ main island of Luzon erupted, killing 800 people.