Volcanic tsunami feared as Philippine volcano spews molten lava

Thousands of residents evacuated and Manila airport closed amid fears the Taal volcano is about to erupt.

A volcano south of Manila gushed red hot lava on Monday, as thousands of people in communities nearby moved to evacuation centres and flights from the Philippines capital’s international airport were cancelled amid fears of a violent eruption.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage. 

Evacuations from arouind the Taal volcano began on Sunday after the volcano sent a column of ash and steam as high as 15km (9 miles) into the sky. Lightning crackled inside the smoke and tremors shook the ground.

The government’s disaster-response agency reported about 8,000 villagers had moved to at least 38 evacuation centres, but officials expect the number to swell with hundreds of thousands more being brought out of harm’s way.

Some residents could not move from ash-blanketed villages because visibility was low and they had no  transport. Some refused to leave their homes and farms, officials said.

“We have a problem, our people are panicking due to the volcano because they want to save their livelihood, their pigs and herds of cows,” Mayor Wilson Maralit of Balete town told DZMM radio. “We’re trying to stop them from returning and warning that the volcano can explode again anytime and hit them.”

Taal, one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, sits in the middle of a lake about 70km (45 miles) south of Manila and its picturesque lake is a popular getaway for people who live in the city.

“We were having lunch when we heard rumbling. We saw the volcano erupting. It rained and some small pebbles fell to the ground,” Jon Patrick Yen, a restaurant customer in Tagaytay, a nearby city, told Reuters news agency.

“I did not expect to see such spectacle. We just went by to eat,” Yen added.

Authorities warned there was a risk an eruption could cause a tsunami in the lake.

“Taal is a very small volcano but a dangerous volcano,” said Renato Solidum, head of The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. “It is unique because it is a volcano within a volcano.”

The institute on Sunday raised the danger level posed by the volcano to 4 out of a possible 5 – meaning “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days”. Alert level 5 means a magmatic eruption is under way.

The Philippines lies on the Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.

One of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, most recently in 1977.

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]

An eruption in 1911 killed 1,500 people and one in 1754 lasted for a few months. “That is the worst case scenario,” Solidum said.

Flights grounded

The ash from the volcano forced the cancellation of more than 240 international and domestic flights from Manila’s airport. 

An alternative airport north of Manila at Clark freeport remained open but authorities said they would close that facility as well if the ash threatened flight safety, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s office ordered the suspension of government work in the capital, as well as all school classes in Manila and other areas affected by the ash. A statement advised private companies to follow suit.

In Manila, long queues formed in shops selling face masks as health officials warned of possible breathing problems for people with respiratory ailments and urged the public to stay indoors and use dust masks when going out.

“When I went to my car to bring my groceries, I saw it was covered in ash. So I hurriedly went back inside to buy a mask from a drugstore but they had run out,” said Angel Bautista, 41, a resident of Paranaque city, south of the capital.

Philippines volcano
Some people took pictures of the Taal Volcano on Sunday as it sent plumes of ash and steam into the air [Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]
Source: News Agencies