Flights grounded in the Philippines as volcano at risk of imminent eruption

Thousands were ordered to leave Tagaytay near Manila as the risk surrounding the Taal volcano rose

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A volcano south of the Philippine capital Manila spewed a giant ash plume accompanied by rumbling sounds and tremors on Sunday, prompting authorities to order about 8,000 residents to leave.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert level at the rumbling Taal volcano to “level 4”, indicating a hazardous eruption was “imminent”.

The highest alert level is 5, hoisted when magmatic eruption is underway.

Dozens of international and domestic flights were put on hold for at least four hours on Sunday night at Manila’s international airport “due to volcanic ash in the vicinity of the airport” and nearby air routes, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said.

The airport shut down completely on Monday, leaving 240 flights cancelled. An alternative airport north of Manila in Clark remained open, but authorities said it would be shut too if ash threatened visibility.

The Institute said it strongly recommended that people flee the area around the Taal volcano and two nearby “high-risk” municipalities in Batangas province.

It warned of “possible hazards of pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami”.

The country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told reporters an evacuation of the area has begun, led by local government officials.

The volcano spewed ash that generated a 1-kilometre plume and fell on communities nearby, the Institute said.

About 8,000 residents were at risk and needed to leave immediately, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said, citing the Institute’s data and recommendations.

Renelyn Bautista, 38, from Laurel town in Batangas province, said she immediately fled her home with her two children, one only 4 months old, after Taal erupted and the ground shook mildly twice.

“We hurriedly evacuated when the air turned muddy because of the ashfall and it started to smell like gunpowder,” Bautista said.

Taal lies more than 60 kilometres south of Manila, on an island in the middle of Taal Lake.

The head of the Institute, Renato Solidum, advised communities around the lake to take precautionary measures and beware of possible water disturbances related to the volcanic activity.

He said the entire island should be strictly off-limits to all residents.

Poor air quality in the northern Philippines. Graphic Ramon Peñas / The National
Poor air quality in the northern Philippines. Graphic Ramon Peñas / The National

Heavy ashfall also reached the province of Cavite, prompting the provincial government to suspend classes on Monday and urge residents to stay indoors.

The phreatic explosion and ash plume were visible from the nearby city of Tagaytay, a popular spot for viewing the volcano to which tourists flock at weekends.

“We were having lunch when we heard rumbling. We saw the volcano erupting. It rained and some small pebbles fell to the ground,” Jon Patrick Yen, a restaurant customer in Tagaytay, told Reuters.

“I did not expect to see such spectacle. We just went by to eat.”