A volcano near Manila spewed a massive cloud of ash that drifted across the Philippine capital, forcing the cancellation of flights as authorities warned of a possible “explosive eruption”.
Thousands of people were evacuated on Sunday from the area near Taal volcano after it suddenly shot 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.
About 8,000 residents of the volcano island and other high-risk towns were ordered to leave, with about 6,000 already out of the danger zone by Sunday evening, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told reporters.
Taal, one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, sits in the middle of a lake about 70km (45 miles) south of the centre of the capital.
Authorities said 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 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”.
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.
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.
The highest alert is level 5 issued when magmatic eruption is under way.
The institute said it was strongly recommending that people evacuate the area around the volcano, which is on an island in the middle of Taal lake, and two nearby “high-risk” municipalities in Batangas province as it warned of “possible hazards of pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami”.
“We have to be on alert because we can see an increase in the phreatic explosions,” said Solidum.
The volcano spewed ash that generated a 1km (0.6 mile) plume that later triggered ashfall in nearby communities, the institute said.
“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.
Taal Volcano, the second most active volcano in the Philippines, is a popular destination that attracts many tourists for its picturesque crater lake. Taal also has the distinction of being the only active volcano in the world within a lake on an island.
The drifting ash forced the cancellation of 172 flights in and out of the international airport on Sunday. General Manager Ed Monreal said flights would also be suspended on Monday because there was ash on the runway.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s office ordered the suspension of government work in the capital and of 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.
A volcano near the Philippine capital of Manila has spewed a massive cloud of ash into the sky, forcing the precautionary evacuation of thousands of residents, authorities said. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology on Sunday raised the alert level at the rumbling Taal volcano, 65km (40miles) south of Manila, to “level 3”, indicating “magmatic unrest” that could lead to a “hazardous eruption in weeks”.