Taal eruption forces 9,000 residents to evacuate
LUCENA CITY, Quezon, Philippines — At least 9,000 residents from two towns in Batangas province were evacuated to temporary shelters on Saturday, hours after Taal Volcano exploded early in the morning, sending steam-laden grayish plumes 3 kilometers into the sky.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) promptly raised Alert Level 3 at Taal, a warning that magmatic eruptions could follow.
The 7:22 a.m. “phreatomagmatic burst” was a type of volcanic explosion which occurs when magma comes into contact with water. It was followed by volcanic earthquakes and low-frequency sound waves, which are typically not heard by humans, Phivolcs said.
Alert level 3, the third-highest volcanic warning, means that magma was continuing to intrude into Taal’s main crater which could “further drive succeeding eruptions.”
The high-risk barangays of Banyaga and Bilibinwang in Agoncillo town and Boso-boso, Gulod and eastern Bugaan East in Laurel town in the province of Batangas were ordered evacuated.
Phivolcs said they were most exposed to possible “pyroclastic density currents,” or dense, fast-moving flow of solidified lava pieces, volcanic ash and hot gases, and “volcanic seiches,” or tsunami-like waves, in case of powerful eruptions.
In Agoncillo, 1,212 people have been evacuated as of 2:13 p.m., according to the town’s disaster risk reduction and management office.
“Those who have yet to evacuate, please go to safe areas,” Agoncillo Mayor Daniel Reyes appealed during a press conference.
In Laurel town, around 8,000 residents from the three villages mentioned in the warning were moved to shelters.
Not like January 2020
Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum Jr. told reporters that the brief explosion was not similar in scale to Taal’s last major eruption in January 2020, which displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers.
“In 2020, it started as a phreatic-driven explosion, then it burst rapidly. In this case, we don’t see that yet,” he added.
Solidum said the alert level may be raised if more magma was detected to be rising.
“If it ascends rapidly, then it could possibly trigger a stronger eruption,” he said.
Nearby popular tourist destinations such as Tagaytay and Nasugbu remained safe to visit, he said.
“All restrictions now would be focused on Taal Volcano Island and the five mentioned barangays,” Solidum said. “There is no threat beyond the mentioned barangays.”
Phivolcs reiterated that Taal Volcano Island, locally called “Pulo,” was a permanent danger zone and entry into the island as well as the high-risk barangays of Agoncillo and Laurel must be prohibited and that all activities on Taal Lake were temporarily disallowed.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council advised residents in the entire Calabarzon Region — which covers the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon — to remain vigilant, take precautionary measures, and follow authorities’ warnings and advisories.
Laurel Mayor Joan Amo said that the unpredictability of the volcano could jeopardize the safety of the residents, particularly at night.
Reyes said authorities would strictly implement all COVID-19 safety protocols in evacuation centers.
He appealed to residents to take in their relatives or other evacuees to prevent congestion in evacuation centers.
Amo said their local social welfare office had been coordinating with the Department of Social Welfare and Development for the needs of the evacuees.
“Food is the priority,” she said.
Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas has dispatched food, water, medicines, ambulances, and other vehicles to help the evacuation, according to the Batangas Public Information Office.
The Lipa Archdiocesan Social Action Commission Inc. is appealing for donations of N95 masks for the evacuees. It said the donation would be received in Lipa City.
Ash from Taal’s last major eruption on Jan. 12, 2020, reached parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces. The eruption displaced more than 500,000 people in Calabarzon.
—WITH REPORTS FROM FRANCES MANGOSING, DEXTER CABALZA, AND INQUIRER RESEARCH