In the Philip­pines, flee­ing a vol­cano

Clouds of ash drift across the coun­try as thou­sands seek higher ground and au­thor­i­ties warn of in­creas­ing dan­ger that could reach a ‘Level 5’ in­ci­dent

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY REGINE CABATO [email protected]­ Ben­jamin Soloway con­trib­uted to this re­port.

A youth liv­ing at the foot of the Taal vol­cano rides in a ca­noe as ash is seen from Tanauan in the Batan­gas prov­ince, south of Manila. Thou­sands of res­i­dents have fled as the vol­cano erupts for the first time since 1977. Manila’s air­port re­sumed op­er­a­tions Mon­day af­ter be­ing closed for about a day, and there have been no con­firmed re­ports of ca­su­al­ties.

manila — An erupt­ing vol­cano spewed lava into the air and spread ash across the Philip­pines on Mon­day, as des­per­ate res­i­dents packed up their be­long­ings and waited for help, while oth­ers fled so quickly they left be­hind their san­dals.

In one town, of­fi­cials had to aban­don evac­u­a­tion cen­ters and re­work their plans af­ter its lo­ca­tion was deemed too risky.

Thou­sands have sought safer ground as the Taal vol­cano erupts for the first time since 1977, blow­ing clouds of ash as far away as Manila, 60 miles to the north. Of­fi­cials have warned that the vol­cano, which sits on an is­land in a lake and is among the Philip­pines’ most ac­tive, could reach a haz­ardous “Level 5” in­ci­dent — in­volv­ing an on­go­ing magma erup­tion — within hours or days.

The vol­cano’s ruc­tions in­ten­si­fied Sun­day, prompt­ing the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in Batan­gas to de­clare a state of calamity. There have been no con­firmed re­ports of ca­su­al­ties.

Manila’s air­port re­sumed par­tial op­er­a­tions Mon­day af­ter be­ing closed for about a day, af­fect­ing hun­dreds of flights. Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte had been de­layed in re­turn­ing to Manila from his home­town of Davao but was able to make the trip Mon­day, his spokesman told the AP.

Face masks were in short sup­ply across the cap­i­tal. Gov­ern­ment of­fices and schools closed early, and some sus­pended Tues­day classes as well, Reuters re­ported.

In the lake­side town of Taal, where a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der is in force, Mayor Pong Mer­cado said Mon­day that his gov­ern­ment had to aban­don 11 evac­u­a­tion cen­ters and move to a larger city, as it was too close to the vol­cano. Un­der a gray sky and with fre­quent tremors, many res­i­dents gath­ered their be­long­ings and waited to be res­cued.

“The traf­fic [is at] a tur­tle’s pace be­cause of the ash­fall. It’s thick, al­most zero vis­i­bil­ity,” Mer­cado said. “It’s okay for now be­cause it’s day­time — it will be harder to see at night.”

Evac­uees with­out cars were mak­ing their way out by foot on muddy roads, their chil­dren and pets in tow. Some also ush­ered out their live­stock, while farm­ers lamented to the lo­cal press that the loss of their an­i­mals would af­fect their liveli­hood.

At a school-turned-shel­ter in the town of Bauan, church vol­un­teer Gia Pauline Fa­bie, 24, es­ti­mated that more than 60 evac­uees had ar­rived, some from Taal. She said there were a lot of chil­dren — one of whom she no­ticed had lost a flipflop dur­ing the rush of evac­u­a­tion.

Church work­ers were scour­ing the town and col­lect­ing peo­ple with­out any­where else to stay.

Taal is among more than 20 ac­tive vol­ca­noes in the Philip­pines, which sits on the Pacific

Ring of Fire. Ac­cord­ing to the NASA Earth Ob­ser­va­tory, Taal con­sists of mul­ti­ple stra­to­vol­ca­noes. Its pri­mary fea­ture is the three-mile-wide Vol­cano Is­land, which has 47 craters and is sur­rounded by wa­ter.

The Philippine In­sti­tute of Vol­canol­ogy and Seis­mol­ogy said magma erup­tions oc­curred in the vol­cano early Mon­day, char­ac­ter­ized by a lava foun­tain, light­ning and thun­der. The vol­cano pro­duced at least 75 earth­quakes.

The erup­tion in­ter­rupted wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions in Ta­gay­tay City, a hill­top tourist destinatio­n that over­looks the lake.

John Dan Ramos, 25, was at­tend­ing his cousin’s wed­ding Sun­day when the guests no­ticed the col­umn of ash ris­ing in the dis­tance. By the time the wed­ding ended, about 200 guests found them­selves stranded for the night, wor­ried that the ash­fall would make it per­ilous to leave.

“I slept un­der a ta­ble,” Ramos said. “It was to each his own.”

On Mon­day, with earth­quakes in­creas­ing, they knew they had to flee. Ramos and his cousins man­aged to get out by car, nav­i­gat­ing steep and slip­pery roads, he said.

At the lake­side town of Tal­isay, roughly 15 min­utes by boat from the is­land where the vol­cano lies, Mariel Ann Ga­bales, 30, man­aged to leave late Sun­day lo­cal time. She and about 10 oth­ers, in­clud­ing her grand­par­ents and cousins, got into a van sent by rel­a­tives. Clutch­ing packed clothes and three dogs, they ar­rived in Lipa City past mid­night af­ter a three-hour jour­ney.

Elec­tric­ity was out, and it was rain­ing. Ga­bales said they drove slowly through the dark along slip­pery roads but noted the sense of com­mu­nity as peo­ple tried to help each other.

But she heard from friends in the area that many res­i­dents had stayed be­hind, wor­ried about their houses.

“You know how some old [peo­ple] can be. Some­times their houses are more im­por­tant than their lives,” she said. “I hope they get res­cued right away.”



TOP: Peo­ple liv­ing near the erupt­ing Taal vol­cano evac­u­ate Ag­oncillo, a city in the Philippine prov­ince of Batan­gas. Evac­uees with­out cars were mak­ing their way out by foot on muddy roads. ABOVE: A bird sits on an ash-cov­ered roof in Tal­isay, Batan­gas.

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