Friday 24 January 2020

Fears grow volcanic eruption could trigger tsunami in the Philippines

Ash cloud: Residents look at the erupting Taal volcano in Tagaytay City, Philippines. Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
Ash cloud: Residents look at the erupting Taal volcano in Tagaytay City, Philippines. Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz

Schools and businesses shut across the Philippine capital yesterday as a volcano belched clouds of ash across the city and seismologists warned an eruption could happen at any time, potentially triggering a tsunami.

Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes around Taal, one of the world's smallest active volcanoes, which spewed ash for a second day from its crater in the middle of a lake about 70km south of central Manila.

"The speed of escalation of Taal's volcanic activity caught us by surprise," Maria Antonia Bornas, chief science research specialist at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told reporters.

"We have detected magma. It's still deep, it hasn't reached the surface. We still can expect a hazardous eruption any time."

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Authorities warned that an eruption could send a tsunami surging across the lake.

More than 24,000 people have been evacuated from the volcanic island and the area immediately around it - normally a popular tourist spot.

"We got scared of what could happen to us, we thought the volcano was going to erupt already," said Marilou Baldonado (53), who left the town of Laurel with only two sets of clothes after she saw the huge ash cloud build.

Some tourists ignored the dangers and travelled to towns close to the volcano to get a better look.

A man looks at the errupting Taal Volcano from a park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A man looks at the errupting Taal Volcano from a park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A logo of a McDonald's store is splattered with mud from volcanic ash in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
Horses rented out for tourists are left in a park filled with volcanic ash and fallen branches in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A ferris wheel is covered with volcanic ash in a park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A ferris wheel is covered with volcanic ash in a park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A swimming pool is filled with volcanic ash and fallen branches in a closed park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
The errupting Taal Volcano is seen at sunrise in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A horse rented out for tourists is left in a park filled with volcanic ash and fallen branches in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A swimming pool is filled with volcanic ash and fallen branches in a closed park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
People look from Tagaytay, Cavite province, south of Manila, as Taal Volcano continues to spew ash on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Thousands of people fled the area through heavy ash as experts warned that the eruption could get worse and plans were being made to evacuate more.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Picnic tables are covered with volcanic ash in a park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A boat goes near fish pens at the lake of Taal Volcano as it continues to spew ash as seen from Tagaytay, Cavite province, south of Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Thousands of people fled the area through heavy ash as experts warned that the eruption could get worse and plans were being made to evacuate more.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Urinals are filled with volcanic ash in a closed park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A swimming pool is filled with volcanic ash in a closed park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
Workers clean mud from volcanic ash in a McDonald's branch in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
Men watch from Tagaytay, Cavite province, south of Manila, as Taal Volcano continues to spew ash on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Thousands of people fled the area through heavy ash as experts warned that the eruption could get worse and plans were being made to evacuate more.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
People watch from Tagaytay, Cavite province, south of Manila, as Taal Volcano continues to spew ash on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Thousands of people fled the area through heavy ash as experts warned that the eruption could get worse and plans were being made to evacuate more.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A swimming pool is filled with volcanic ash and fallen branches in a closed park in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
A drone is released from Tagaytay, Cavite province, south of Manila, as Taal Volcano continues to spew ash on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Thousands of people fled the area through heavy ash as experts warned that the eruption could get worse and plans were being made to evacuate more.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A couple attends their wedding ceremony as Taal Volcano sends out a column of ash in the background in Alfonso, Cavite, Philippines, January 12, 2020, in this image obtained from social media. Courtesy of Randolf Evan Photography/Social Media via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT CREDIT RANDOLF EVAN PHOTOGRAPHY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

"It's a once in a lifetime experience for us," Israeli tourist Benny Borenstein told Reuters as he snapped photos of Taal from a vantage point in Tagaytay City, about 32km away.

To the south-west of the volcano, the towns of Agoncillo and Lemery were coated by a thick layer of ash, making roads impassable.

Agoncillo's mayor, Daniel Reyes, told DZMM radio some homes and part of a building had collapsed under the weight of the fallen ash.

In nearby Talisay Batangas, vice-governor Mark Leviste said rain had turned ash to mud and trucks were needed to evacuate more people from remote communities.

"There is no power. Even water was cut, so we are in need of potable water," he said. "We are in need of face masks."

In Manila, masks sold out quickly after residents were advised to wear them if they had to go out. Some wore handkerchiefs across their faces as they breathed air tainted by the smell of sulphur.

Streets that would normally be snarled with some of the world's worst traffic were largely empty in the city of 13 million people.

Schools and government offices were closed on official orders. The stock exchange suspended trading and many private businesses shut for the day too.

Classes in some cities in the capital will remain suspended today, officials said.

Irish Independent

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