Thousands flee as volcano 'turns air muddy'
A small volcano near the Philippine capital that draws tourists for its picturesque setting in a lake erupted with a massive plume of ash and steam yesterday, prompting the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and forcing Manila's international airport to shut down.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Taal Volcano in Batangas province south of Manila blasted steam, ash and pebbles up to 15km into the sky in a dramatic escalation of its growing restiveness, which began last year.
The danger level around Taal was raised three notches yesterday to level 4, indicating "a hazardous eruption may happen within hours or days," said Renato Solidum, who heads the volcanology institute.
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.
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"We have asked people in high-risk areas, including the volcano island, to evacuate now ahead of a possible hazardous eruption," Mr Solidum said.
Renelyn Bautista, a 38-year-old mother of two who was among thousands of residents who fled from Batangas province's Laurel town, said: "We hurriedly evacuated when the air turned muddy because of the ashfall and it started to smell like gunpowder."
Fallen ash covered the runways at Manila's international airport. All departing and arriving flights were suspended "due to volcanic ash in the vicinity of the airport" and nearby air routes.