Red-hot lava gushed out of a Philippine volcano today after a sudden eruption of ash and steam that forced villagers to flee and shut down Manila’s international airport, offices and schools.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage from Taal volcano’s eruption south of the capital that began yesterday.
But clouds of ash blew more than 100 kilometres north, reaching the bustling capital, Manila, and forcing the shutdown of the country's main airport with more than 240 international and domestic flights cancelled so far.
An alternative airport north of Manila at Clark freeport remained open but authorities would shut it down too if ashfall threatens flights, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said.
The government’s disaster-response agency reported about 8,000 villagers have moved to at least 38 evacuation centres in the hard-hit province of Batangas and nearby Cavite province, but officials expect the number to swell with hundreds of thousands more being brought out of harm’s way.
Some residents could not move out of ash-blanketed villages due to a lack of transport and poor visibility. 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.”
Maralit, whose town lies along the coastline of Taal Lake surrounding the erupting volcano, appealed for troops and additional police to be deployed to stop distraught residents from sneaking back to their high-risk coastal villages.
After months of restiveness that began last year, Taal suddenly rumbled back to life yesterday, blasting steam, ash and pebbles up to 10 to 15 kilometres into the sky, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
The government volcano-monitoring agency raised the danger level around Taal three notches to level 4, indicating “an imminent hazardous eruption.” Level 5, the highest, means a hazardous eruption is underway and could affect a larger area with high-risk zones that would need to be cleared of people, said Renato Solidum, who heads the institute.
Ma. Antonio Bornas, the agency’s chief volcanologist, said lava spurted out in fountains out of the volcano early today while its ash and steam ejections eased.
It’s hard to tell when the eruption would stop, she said, citing Taal’s similar restiveness in the 1970s that lasted for about four months.