PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL ANTHONY SAGARAN
AUTHORITIES yesterday evacuated thousands of residents as Taal Volcano spewed a giant ash plume accompanied by rumbling sounds and tremors, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Flights were cancelled and classes were suspended in some areas after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert to “level 3,” indicating “magmatic unrest” that could lead to a “hazardous eruption in weeks.”
At around 8 p.m., Phivolcs further raised the alert to “level 4” which warns of an imminent hazardous eruption, possibly within days. The highest alert is level 5, hoisted when magmatic eruption is underway.
Ashfall reached Metro Manila late yesterday, particularly in Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Parañaque, and Taguig cities, said NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal.
“The southern cities of Metro Manila are already experiencing ashfall,” Timbal said, adding wind direction was the main factor.
There were reports of ashfall also in Quezon City.
Romulo Cabantac, director of the Office of Civil Defense-National Capital Region, said, “It’s already here in Alabang … It’s not that much, however,” he said.
The heavy ashfall also reached the province of Cavite, prompting the provincial government to suspend classes on Monday and urge residents to stay indoors.
Ashfall from the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga also reached Metro Manila.
Yesterday’s phreatic explosion and ash plume at Taal were visible from the nearby city of Tagaytay, a popular spot for viewing the volcano and where tourists flock during weekends.
Timbal could not immediately say the number of people so far sent to evacuation centers but said officials are eyeing to move out 6,000 to 10,000 people from the towns of San Nicolas, Balete, and Talisay.
Timbal said the evacuation began after the explosions which caused an ash column as high as 100 meters and three earthquakes, and after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) initially raised the alert status to level No. 2 at around 2:30 p.m.
Less than two hours later, Phivolcs further raised the alert status to Level 3, as Taal “has escalated its eruptive activity, generating an eruption plume 1 kilometer-high accompanied by volcanic tremor and felt earthquakes in Volcano Island and barangays of Agoncillo, Batangas.”
“Ashfall is currently being showered on the southwest sector of Taal,” Phivolcs in a 4 p.m. bulletin.
Phivolcs director Renato Solidum said minor phreatic explosions were observed starting 11 a.m., followed by stronger explosions hours later.
Timbal said evacuations in the Agoncillo and Laurel towns were also undertaken. He could not immediately say the number of people due for evacuation in the two towns.
Phivolcs reminded the public that the entire Volcano Island is a permanent danger zone and the entry into the island and in the” high-risk” barangays of Agoncillo and Laurel is prohibited.
“In addition, communities around the Taal Lake shore are advised to take precautionary measures and be vigilant of possible lake water disturbances related to the ongoing unrest,” it said.
Phivolcs said Taal volcano’s seismic network has been manifesting “moderate to high level of seismic activity” since March last year.
It said some of the earthquakes were felt with intensities ranging from 1 to 3 in Barangays Calauit, Balete, Sitio Tibag, Pira-Piraso, Buco, Talisay, Alas-as, and Pulangbato in San Nicolas, Batangas.
Batangas disaster response head Joselito Castro said ash plumes and “blasting” were observed at volcano.
He said the evacuations were prioritized at volcano island and parts of San Nicolas, Balete, and Talisay towns that are nearest to the volcano. He said an estimated 8,000 people can be affected by the evacuation in the three towns.
The Manila International Airport Authority put all flights on hold after the phreatic explosions.
MIAA, in a 6 p.m. post on its Facebook account, said: “Due to the eruption of the Taal Volcano, all flights, both arrival and departures are now on hold. Passengers are advised to coordinate with their respective airlines for flight updates.”
Among local governments that have suspended classes in all levels were the cities of Manila, Parañaque, Makati, Pasay, Muntinlupa, San Juan, and Las Piñas, and Cavite province.
Some areas in Batangas also suspended classes, including Talisay, Balete, Mataas na Kahoy, Cuenca, Alitagtag, Sta. Teresita, San Nicolas, Agoncillo, in all levels.
NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad shared a Department of Health advisory in coping with volcanic ash which consists of powder-size to sand-size particles blown into the air by an erupting volcano.
“Exposure to falling ash may cause a number of health problems. Anyone who already suffers from health problems such as bronchitis, emphysema or asthma should avoid exposure to volcanic ash,” the advisory said.
It said volcanic ash may cause nose and throat irritation, coughing, bronchitis-like illness, discomfort while breathing, eye irritation, minor skin problems, injuries/death due to roof collapse or vehicular accident resulting from slippery roads, and poor visibility.
The advisory said ways to cope with the ashfall includes minimizing exposure to ash; staying indoors as much as possible; keeping doors and windows closed; preventing home from infiltration by using damp curtains, blankets, or clothing; using dust masks; wearing goggles or eyeglasses to protect eyes from irritation; keeping pets in closed shelter; clearing roofs of ash; and observing traffic notifications and road safety measures. — With Rod Lagusad, Jocelyn Montemayor, and Reuters