Philippines: Volcanic Eruption Forces Thousands to Evacuate

Aie Balagtas-See
Manila
2021-07-02
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Philippines: Volcanic Eruption Forces Thousands to Evacuate Police man a checkpoint inside the danger zone near the Taal volcano in Laurel, a town in Batangas province, Philippines, July 2, 2021.
AP

Thousands of Filipinos were evacuated from towns around the Taal Volcano south of Manila after it sent a plume of ash and debris 1 kilometer into the sky, authorities said Friday as some expressed concern about social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The volcano, located in Batangas province about 64 km (40 miles) south of Manila, roared back to life on Thursday in what volcanologists said was a “short-lived phreatomagmatic eruption.” Magmatic gases and groundwater steam were expelled as a dark grayish plume spewed from the volcano.

“Nearly 4,000 families (or about 15,000 individuals) have been evacuated” as of Friday, the provincial government said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Save the Children, an NGO with local networks in the region, gave a higher figure of about 21,500 – in the high-risk towns of Agoncillo and Laurel alone. It said “forced evacuation” was being implemented in some villages.  

As shelters filled, a Save the Children official expressed worry about a lack of physical distancing as the country continues to reel from the COVID-19 outbreak. Batangas has recorded more than 30,000 confirmed cases and 818 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began, according to government statistics. 

“We are also concerned that, amidst the chaos of the evacuations, families will be unable to follow social distancing guidelines and are at risk of being infected with the virus,” said Jerome Balinton, the Philippines humanitarian manager for Save the Children. 

“If the evacuation of families becomes overwhelming, it may contribute to the spread of the virus,” he said in a statement.

Volcanic quakes

Four smaller eruptions on Friday that lasted minutes each followed Thursday’s initial volcanic activity, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), a government agency.

It pointed to a series of volcanic quakes over the previous 24 hours as the agency raised Taal’s alert level to the third of a five-step system. Level three means that magma was rising and “could drive an explosive eruption” while level five signals a life-threatening eruption. 

On Friday, PHIVOLCS Director Renato Solidum told Philippine media that monitoring was necessary even though he did not expect a major eruption.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said mayors in at least five townships in Batangas province were on alert and that some residents had been evacuated. 

Food packs and medications were prepared for distribution, the council said, adding that police and the army were ready to assist if needed.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said ambulances, volunteers and doctors were on standby.   

“In fact we have prepositioned some of our supplies, assets and life-saving equipment,” he said.

“Our experiences with disasters taught us the value of being prepared and how every second counts when lives are at stake.” 

Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, a spokesman for the military, said troops were deployed to affected communities to assist in evacuations, particularly in the towns of Laurel and Agoncillo. 

“The evacuees are being brought to upland areas,” he said in a statement. “We have placed more persons on alert and [are] ready for immediate deployment.

“Given the lessons and experience last year with Taal Volcano, we are better prepared to assist the local government units who are well prepared with their incident management teams,” Arevalo said. 

Located on an island inside a lake, the volcano erupted suddenly in January 2020, raining ash across the island and darkening the sky above Manila. While no one died, the eruption caught many by surprise, shutting Manila’s airport and triggering mass evacuations.

Taal is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. The 1,020-foot (311-meter) volcano's 1754 eruption lasted seven months.

The Philippines, with 24 active volcanoes, sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire where eruptions and earthquakes are frequent. 

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