30,000 flee; Philip­pines warns of fu­ture erup­tion

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - John Ba­con

Lava, ash, thun­der and light­ning spewed from the Taal Vol­cano in the Philip­pines on Mon­day as thou­sands of res­i­dents fled the re­gion along roads choked by cars and omi­nous dark­ness.

The Philippine In­sti­tute of Vol­canol­ogy and Seis­mol­ogy warned that a “haz­ardous ex­plo­sive erup­tion” was pos­si­ble within hours to days.

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte or­dered fam­i­lies in nearby com­mu­ni­ties to evac­u­ate to safer ground, a process made dif­fi­cult by the poor vis­i­bil­ity and, for many, a lack of trans­porta­tion. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple may ul­ti­mately flee the re­gion, of­fi­cials said.

“Taal Vol­cano en­tered a pe­riod of in­tense un­rest,” the vol­cano in­sti­tute said in a state­ment. “This mag­matic erup­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by weak lava foun­tain­ing ac­com­pa­nied by thun­der and flashes of light­ning.”

Philippine De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana warned that the “worst-case sce­nario” for Taal could be sim­i­lar to the erup­tion of Mount Pi­natubo, 90 miles to the north, that killed 800 peo­ple and ren­dered 200,000 home­less in 1991.

“Re­mem­ber Pi­natubo – the en­tire moun­tain col­lapsed dur­ing the erup­tion,” Loren­zana said. “That’s what we are fear­ing, that the erup­tion would cause the en­tire is­land to rise and scat­ter de­bris on the nearby ar­eas.”

Taal started spew­ing ash, steam and even smaller rocks nearly 10 miles into the air Sun­day. The de­bris forced the air­port in Manila, 65 miles away, to shut down for sev­eral hours. More than 500 flights were can­celed, and au­thor­i­ties warned that the air­port could again be closed if con­di­tions worsen.

“We can never pre­dict the ac­tions of this vol­cano,” Loren­zana said.

Tracy Gregg, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ge­ol­ogy at Uni­ver­sity at Buf­falo, said that nearby Lake Taal is in fact a vol­canic crater formed from at least four “cat­a­clysmic” erup­tions more than 500,000 years ago. Taal Is­land, es­sen­tially the vol­cano, was formed from sub­se­quent, smaller erup­tions.

“The truth is that we have no good prece­dent for how such a large vol­cano gears up into a cat­a­clysmic erup­tion,” Gregg told USA TO­DAY. “We know that such erup­tions oc­cur ... but we don’t know what spe­cific ad­vance signs such a gi­gan­tic erup­tion would give us be­cause we’ve never wit­nessed one.”

She said that could be what Taal is revving up for. But she said it also could sim­ply be vent­ing some ex­tra pres­sure “like a pot will boil over on the stove.”

Taal is among two dozen ac­tive vol­ca­noes in the Philip­pines. The coun­try is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a seis­mi­cally ac­tive re­gion prone to earth­quakes and vol­canic erup­tions.

At least 30,000 peo­ple had fled homes in Batan­gas and Cavite prov­inces by Mon­day, the na­tion’s dis­as­ter re­sponse team said. More than 15,000 peo­ple had fled to emer­gency shel­ters Mon­day, the Philippine News Ser­vice re­ported.

Irene de Claro, a mother of four, wor­ried about her fa­ther, who stayed in their vil­lage in Ag­oncillo town in Batan­gas while the rest of the fam­ily fled.

“My fa­ther is miss­ing. We don’t know too what hap­pened to our house be­cause the ash was up to our knees,” she said.

“Most likely there’s noth­ing for us to re­turn to. We’re back to zero.”

In the town of Balete, Mayor Wil­son Mar­alit said some pan­icked res­i­dents were more in­ter­ested in sav­ing the live­stock that pro­vide their liveli­hood as they were in sav­ing them­selves.

“We’re try­ing to stop them from re­turn­ing,” he told DZMM ra­dio. “And warn­ing that the vol­cano can ex­plode again any time and hit them.”


Res­i­dents watch Taal vol­cano spew ash from a look­out in Tal­isay, Batan­gas prov­ince, south­ern Philip­pines on Mon­day.

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