Authorities in the Philippines have started evacuating thousands of people after the alert status was raised on Thursday for a restive volcano that spewed a kilometre-high (0.62-mile) plume of gas and steam.
At least 3,500 families composed of 14,495 individuals have been evacuated in the province of Batangas province following three eruptions, according to Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas.
The alert for the Taal volcano, approximately 70km (45 miles) south of central Manila, moved from level 2 to level 3 on the 5-level scale, which the seismology and volcanology agency said meant a “magmatic intrusion” at the main crater “could further drive succeeding eruptions”.
Taal is one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes. Despite standing at only 311 metres (1,020 feet), it can be deadly and an eruption in 1911 killed more than 1,300 people.
In January last year, Taal shot a column of ash and steam as high as 15km (9.3 miles) into the sky, which forced more than 100,000 people to abandon their homes, causing widespread flight cancellations and heavy ash falls in Manila.
Authorities have warned that the current eruption could potentially be more hazardous than that of last year.
Water in Taal’s crater boiled before and after its eruption, a video posted on the Facebook page of the seismology agency showed.
Magma made contact with the crater’s water, which then turned into gas and vapour, known as a phreatomagmatic eruption.
“Phreatomagmatic is more dangerous because there’s already an interaction with magma,” Maria Antonia Bornas, chief of the agency’s monitoring and eruption prediction division, told a news conference.
Asked late on Thursday about the national government’s response, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made light of the situation saying there was no need for a special meeting to discuss the situation and joked that he would just seal the spewing volcano with a cap to stop the explosion.
The Philippine seismological agency warned of possible “succeeding eruptions” and recommended the evacuation of the volcano island and “high-risk” areas of Agoncillo and Laurel towns, situated on the lake surrounding the Taal volcano.
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“We’re just raising the alert because something is happening and it can lead to a higher activity,” Renato Solidum, head of the agency, told the AFP news agency.
A spokesperson for the national disaster agency said its local agents had called an emergency meeting with government officials and emergency services.
He estimates that nearly 15,000 people lived in the most vulnerable areas.
Agoncillo disaster officer Junfrance De Villa told AFP preparations were under way in case residents needed to be evacuated from the lakeside community.
“Some have already taken shelter with relatives,” De Villa said.
The national disaster bureau warned of eruption-related quakes.
Dump trucks were sent to assist and payloaders and evacuation centres were being readied, he added.