Tens of thousands of people in the Philippines are being evacuated from an erupting volcano 40 miles (65 kilometres) south of the capital as some 144 earthquakes could signal “further eruptive activity.”
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology kept the alert status at the second highest level at its 4 pm bulletin, reiterating a call for total evacuation from the Taal volcano island and areas within the 14-kilometre radius.
The agency warned that a “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days,” prompting the government to shut offices and schools and financial markets to suspend trading on Monday. The possibility of an imminent dangerous eruption is still there given the earthquakes, Renato Solidum who heads the volcanology agency, said at a briefing on Monday.
More than 24,000 people have fled their homes since January 12 as power in towns near the volcano was cut off and some roads were closed due to ash fall, according to the disaster management agency.
About 300,000 have to be evacuated, especially if eruptions in the main crater cause surrounding craters to explode, authorities said.
According to officials, 142 municipalities with a population of over 14 million people are affected. Currently, 22 evacuation centers are housing 3,537 families (12,292 individuals).
Manila’s main airport — which was shut since Taal volcano flared up on January 12, suspending more than 240 flights and affecting about 60,000 passengers — resumed partial operations before noon, according to authorities.
Aircraft are still advised to avoid the airspace around the volcano as ash and ballistic fragments pose risks.
Dozens of towns and cities all the way to Metro Manila, including the main business district of Makati City, are enduring ash fall and volcanic particles up to 2.5 inches in diametre. The weather agency, in its 5 pm advisory, expects the ash fall to head towards Laguna, Rizal and Quezon provinces to the east and south of the capital if eruption continues. A change of wind direction means ash is blowing over municipalities not included in earlier emergency plans, swelling the number of communities affected.
The Philippines is “well prepared financially to handle any fallout and damage from this eruption,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez told Bloomberg Television. The government has set aside at least $50 million in emergency fund and can tap catastrophe financing to fund rebuilding, he said.
Lenders including Bank of the Philippine Islands and Security Bank Corp shut branches in central and southern Luzon. Ayala Land Inc said its two malls near Taal volcano were closed on Monday for safety checks and clearing works. SM Prime Holdings shut its mall in Lemery town in Batangas.
Muntinlupa City in the capital region will continue to shut schools on Tuesday, it said.
Taal is considered the second-most active volcano in the Philippines. Located in the middle of a lake less than 10 kilometres inland of Balayan Bay on the island of Luzon, Taal has dozens of craters, according to the volcanology agency.
The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Battered by about 20 typhoons annually, the country also sits on the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” subjecting it to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Between 2000 and 2016, natural disasters in the Philippines caused more than 23,000 deaths and affected 125 million people, according to the Asian Development Bank.