Taal Volcano Eruption Prompts Thousands To Evacuate

The Taal volcano in the Philippines spewed lava early Monday morning, its first eruption since 1977.

AsianScientist (Jan. 14, 2020) – The eruption of the Taal volcano in the Philippines has forced more than 30,000 individuals to be evacuated in Batangas, a province around 100 km away from Manila.

State seismologists were prompted to raise the alert level status from 1 to 4 within hours of continuous volcanic activity. According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), the state volcanology agency, the Taal volcano has been on alert level 1 since March 2019 and was promptly raised to alert level 2 on Sunday afternoon when the volcano had a steam-driven eruption. The volcano alert levels range from 0 to 5, with 5 indicating that a hazardous eruption is taking place.

The volcano then spewed smoke and ashes generating a plume of about 100 meters high. By Sunday evening, scientists observed that magma was about to reach the surface, raising the alert level to 3. At around 3:00 AM, Monday morning, PHIVOLCS observed lava gushing out of the volcano crater.

Warning signs of an impending eruption include increased temperature and level of water in the main crater lake because of the presence of magma. The sulfur content of gases within the area should have also increased. Theoretically, there would be a fish kill within the vicinity of the lake because of the heightened toxic concentrations on the lake.

However, University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP NIGS) Director Mario Aurelio said in a press conference on Monday afternoon that none of the signs that could help seismologists and volcanologists predict an imminent eruption were observed a day or even a few hours before the eruption.

“That’s why the escalation of alert level 1 to alert level 4 in a matter of a few hours was unexpected,” said Aurelio.

PHIVOLCS has also recorded a total of 212 volcanic earthquakes since Sunday afternoon.

“Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magma intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity,” according to the PHIVOLCS bulletin.

Historical data shows that in 1754, Taal volcano’s eruption lasted for seven months, burying several towns in ashes, volcanic rocks and water. It was the largest volcanic eruption of Taal to date. Meanwhile, in 1757, 1911, and 1977, the volcanic eruption lasted for a few days.

“As to this time, what will be the behavior of the volcano? Will it do a 1977 or will it repeat what happened in 1754? Even PHIVOLCS cannot answer that definitively,” Aurelio said.

The Taal volcano, situated about 70 km away from Manila, is one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines. It has erupted at least 30 times in the past 500 years.

“Total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and areas at high risk to pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami within a 14-kilometer radius from Taal Main Crater. Areas in the general north of Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall,” the PHIVOLCS bulletin on Tuesday morning reads.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has warned the people directly affected by the volcanic eruption to heed evacuation calls and minimize outdoor activities.

“I also advise everyone to turn off the air conditioning and fans, close windows and doors to keep ash and gases from getting inside the house, and to remain alert and prepared to evacuate, if advised. For those evacuating, exercise caution when driving in low visibility and bring extra water for cleaning your front mirrors in case of heavy ashfall,” health secretary Mr. Francisco Duque said in a statement.


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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: PHIVOLCS.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Shai Panela is an award-winning freelance science journalist based in the Philippines. She was part of the Asian Science Journalism fellowship program of the World Federation of Science Journalists in 2013 and covers stories in science, health, technology and the environment.

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