Volcano erupts near Manila; airport shut, villagers flee

TAGAYTAY, PHILIPPINES (AP) – A small volcano south of the Philippine capital that draws many tourists for its picturesque setting in a lake erupted with a massive plume of ash and steam yesterday, prompting thousands of people to flee and officials to shut Manila’s international airport.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Taal Volcano in Batangas province south of Manila blasted steam, ash and pebbles up to 10 to 15 kilometres into the sky in a dramatic escalation of its growing restiveness, which began last year.

The volcanology institute raised the danger level around Taal three notches yesterday to level 4, indicating “a hazardous eruption may happen within hours or days,” said Renato Solidum, who heads the volcanology institute. Level 5, the highest, means a hazardous eruption is underway and could affect a larger area.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, but authorities scrambled to evacuate more than 6,000 villagers from an island in the middle of a lake, where the volcano lies, and tens of thousands more from nearby coastal towns, officials said.

“We have asked people in high-risk areas, including the volcano island, to evacuate now ahead of a possible hazardous eruption,” Solidum said.

People watch plumes of smoke and ash rise as Taal Volcano erupts in Tagaytay, Cavite province, outside Manila, the Philippines. PHOTO: AP

Renelyn Bautista, a 38-year-old housewife who was among thousands of residents who fled from Batangas province’s Laurel town, said she hitched a ride to safety from her home with her two children, including a four-month-old baby, after Taal erupted and the ground shook mildly.

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

International and domestic flights were suspended yesterday 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.

Taal lies more than 60 kilometres south of Manila.

The institute reminded the public that the small island where the volcano lies is a “permanent danger zone,” although fishing villages have existed there for years. It asked nearby coastal communities “to take precautionary measures and be vigilant of possible lake water disturbances related to the ongoing unrest.”