Philippines on alert as volcano spews ash, steam and lava

Thousands of residents evacuated and Manila airport closed amid fears of 'hazardous' eruption of Taal volcano.

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    Tagaytay, Philippines - The Philippine government is on full alert, bracing itself for the possible eruption of the Taal volcano, the second most active in the Southeast Asian nation.

    Forced evacuations took place on Sunday and about 8,000 people were moved to safer ground or housed in evacuation centres.

    Roads to an evacuation centre in Talisay town on Monday were blocked with police saying that the volcanic ash had made the roads too dangerous to cross.

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    There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage but there was no power in affected areas and water was in short supply.

    "We have to be very cautious," said Pong Mercado, the mayor of Taal town. "The roads are slippery and dangerous. I myself am making plans to move to safer ground."

    Volcanology and Seismology Department (PhilVocs) has been monitoring Taal since March last year.

    On Sunday, it raised the alert level to 4 out of a 5-point scale and warned of a "possible hazardous volcanic eruption" within hours or days.

    Philippines volcano
    The area around the Taal volcano has been cloaked in volcanic ash, which also forced the closure of Manila's international airport to shut down [Aaron Favila/AP Photo]

    'Rained mud and stone'

    Bong Agustin was busy tending to the usual crowd of weekend tourists when he first saw smoke coming out of Taal volcano about 6 miles (10km) away from the hotel where he works.

    "I didn't think anything of it but around 2pm [06:00 GMT], I looked out the window and saw the clouds coming from the volcano were red," Agustin said. "Then my friends living close to the volcano sent me text messages saying they were feeling tremors."

    Then, he says, it started to rain mud and stones.

    Winds carried volcanic ash from Taal to coat Tagaytay and neighbouring towns in grey dust.

    Large swathes of pineapple fields and farm animals were cloaked with fine volcanic ash, and leaves and tree branches bent beneath its weight.

    The ash fall could be felt from as far as the Philippine capital of Manila, about 70km (45 miles) north, and the city's airport had to be closed.

    "It [ashfall] wasn't enough to be painful but it had pebbles. It was more scary than painful," said Charina Palacios, a fruit vendor.

    This handout photo taken and received on January 12, 2020 courtesy of Renz Lejarso Guevara shows ash from the Taal volcano (not pictured) in the air, as seen against a church in the foreground in the
    Ash and steam rise into the air behind a church in the town of Taal south of Manila [Courtesy of Renz Lejarso Guevara via AFP]

    Palacios said she was unable to sleep on Sunday night because of continuous tremors that were felt every 30 minutes to one hour.

    "I don't know what to wish for. Should I hope that it rains so it could wash away the ash and we can save our fruit plantations? But I heard that the ash contained sulphur so I don't [know] if that will damage our fruits," she added.

    Tourist attraction - still

    PhilVocs said more frequent and stronger tremors and increased water temperatures around the volcano were possible signs of an imminent eruption.

    Authorities are on the watch for possible "volcanic tsunamis" when volcanic eruption filled with rock fragments crash into the water and flood neighbouring towns.

    They also warned of possible "base surges" where rocks shooting out of the volcano at up to 80km an hour (50mph) can burn or bury anything they touch.

    The risk of an impending eruption and mass evacuations did not keep visitors away from the area - a favoured weekend getaway for city dwellers.

    Philippines volcano
    'Scary, but terrifyingly beautiful': Honey Rose Isturias and her partner have previously climbed Taal and came to watch the latest volcanic activity [Ana Santos/Al Jazeera]

    Honey Rose Isturias and her partner came from nearby Cavite to celebrate his birthday and specifically to witness Taal's volcanic activity.

    "We climbed Taal last year and saw its crater up close," she said, taking selfies with the volcano in the background. "We thought it would be nice to come back.

    "It's a bit scary, but also terrifyingly beautiful," she said, watching the volcano as it spewed out clouds of smoke.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News