Officials in the Philippines warned of an “explosive eruption” at the Taal Volcano just miles from the capital Manila and urged a “total evacuation” of the area in its immediate vicinity.
The volcano spewed ash miles into the air on Sunday, triggering alerts, including the possibility of a “volcanic tsunami.” The volcano is located about 40 miles from Manila, which is the largest city in the country.
In a bulletin late on Sunday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert status at Taal Volcano to a four out of five. A five on the scale means that an eruption is currently taking place.
“This means that hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days,” the agency warned, adding that it “strongly reiterates total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and additional evacuation of areas at high risk to pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami within a 14-kilometer (9-mile) radius from Taal Main Crater.”
The Associated Press reported that lava began gushing from the volcano on Monday, while tens of thousands of people have already fled. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology added, “Areas in the general north of Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise aircraft to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft.”
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte urged families in nearby communities to evacuate to safer ground. Officials said that hundreds of thousands may eventually evacuate. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana evoked memories of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which killed 800 people, saying, “Remember Pinatubo–the entire mountain collapsed during the eruption. That’s what we are fearing, that the eruption would cause the entire island to rise and scatter debris on the nearby areas,” according to USA Today.
Over the weekend, the agency also warned of a possible “volcanic tsunami,” which may take place in caldera lakes such as Taal Lake when water is displaced due to rising magma.
“We can never predict the actions of this volcano,” Lorenzana said.
“Eruptive activity at Taal Volcano Main Crater intensified as continuous eruption generated a tall 10-15 kilometer (6-10 mile) steam-laden tephra column with frequent volcanic lightning that rained wet ashfall on the general north as far as Quezon City,” the agency said in an alert earlier on Sunday.