Philippine volcano could erupt ‘within hours or days’ as 40,000 evacuate, schools shut down

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Schools and government offices closed and the city of Tagaytay was rocked by scores of tremors Tuesday as Philippine’s Taal volcano spewed lava and ash a half mile into the sky.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology set the “alert level” at four, meaning a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days. It advised residents across much of the country to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall.

Almost 40,000 people from the Taal area were living in 198 evacuation centers with no timetable for going home, the government said. Many never will.

Renato Solidum, who heads the volcano institute, said authorities were closely monitoring the speed in the rise of magma, an important factor in determining whether the volcano will have a strong eruption or settle down. 

“As of now, we don’t see activities slowing down and the earthquakes still continue,” Solidum said.

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Not everyone was fleeing. In Tagaytay, a few miles north of Taal, many of the city’s 70,000 residents warily watched and waited, sweeping ash from their homes and cars.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned businesses nationwide not to hoard facemasks as ash-laden clouds rolled across the archipelago, darkening the air in the capital, Manila, 40 miles to the north. Most schools in the city of almost 2 million were closed due to poor air quality that kept people in their homes.

The government warned that “unreasonably” high prices would bring stiff criminal charges, The Manila Times reported.

“If you hoard them I will be forced to raid your business,” Duterte said. “For those who cannot afford it, I will give it free.”

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported due to the volcano, which has been rumbling for weeks but began erupting Sunday. But the nation’s Agriculture Department said the volcano has already killed 2,000 head of livestock.

Local lawmaker Lawrence Fortun called on the government to provide “outright grants with no repayment provision” instead of loans to farmers “who already lost everything” to the ash.

“They cannot return to the volcano island, so they have to be relocated,” he told the Philippine News Agency. “It is feasible for the government to implement a program for housing and distribution of farmlands.”

Fortun said the government also must aid in relocating fishing families in villages surrounding nearby Laguna de Bay.

The volcano institute warned airlines to “avoid airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards.”

Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport struggled with hundreds of delayed or canceled flights affecting 80,000 passengers. General Manager Ed Monreal said airport was handling about half its normal number of flights Tuesday, encouraging news after the airport was shut down by ashfall on Sunday and barely operational Monday.

“We are on the road to recovery,” he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Credit: USATODAY