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Thousands flee from Philippine volcano

Agencies - Xinhua | Updated: 2020-01-14 09:58

Ash clouds prompt evacuation alert, Manila airport cancels 500 flights

A bird sits atop a roof covered with ashes from the erupting Taal Volcano evacuates in Talisay, Batangas, Philippines, January 13, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

MANILA-Nearly 50,000 people living near a volcano on an island close to the Philippine capital have heeded an official warning to evacuate as fears of a large eruption grow, officials said on Monday.

Clouds of ash blew more than 100 kilometers north of Taal Volcano, reaching Manila and forcing the shutdown of the country's main airport with more than 500 flights canceled so far.

There have been no reports of casualties or major damage from the volcano's eruption that began on Sunday.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology increased the alert level for Taal Volcano on Sunday to 4 on a scale of 5 with an increased prospect of a hazardous eruption "within hours to days".

Level 4 means a hazardous eruption is in progress. The volcanic institute declared a permanent danger zone within the Taal Volcano's 14-km radius as it spewed lava and ash.

Volcano institute head Renato Solidum said the institute has recorded 52 volcanic earthquakes in the Taal region until 1 am on Monday.

"Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magma intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity," Solidum said.

Gerry Natanuan, the mayor of the town of Talisay in Batangas Province, said 45,000 people living near the volcano, a popular tourist spot, were evacuated on Sunday night. He said that a few villagers who stayed to watch over their homes will eventually be forced to evacuate.

Batangas Province Vice-Governor Mark Leviste said there are 12 towns around the volcano but the towns of Talisay, Agoncillo, and Laurel towns are high-risk areas. The towns and Taal Volcano island is home to farmers, fishermen and tourist guides.

Thick ashfall

Leviste said there was zero visibility in some areas because of the thick ashfall on Sunday night. Some roads are covered with up to two inches of mud, he added.

Television footage showed villagers covered in volcanic ash evacuated to safer ground overnight. People living in high-risk towns near the volcano donned masks.

The institute said fine, dense ash drifted in many areas in provinces south and north of Manila.

"Fine ashfall can cause irritation and breathing problems, especially among the elderly and children, and it is particularly dangerous to the health," the institute warned. In addition, it said that "areas of ashfall have also an experienced sulfurous smell, which can also cause irritation".

The institute urged the affected residents to wear face masks or put a damp cloth or towel over their faces, warning of the effects of "heavy and prolonged ashfall."

"Motorists are advised to drive with extreme caution as ash can cause poor visibility and, when wet, can make roads slippery," the institute said.

The eruption also forced the government to cancel classes in schools in the provinces blanketed by volcanic ash, including Metro Manila.

Visits to the 2,500-hectare crater island, a major tourist draw, were banned as the institute declared the entire island a permanent danger zone.

Taal is one of the most unstable of the country's 24 known active volcanos with 34 recorded eruptions.


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