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Philippines: Taal volcano eruption forces thousands of evacuations

13 Jan 2020

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Taal Volcano, located in Batangas Province in the Philippines. Credit: OCHA

The disaster-response agency of the Government of the Philippines has raised the alert level to four over Taal volcano, located about 70 kilometres south of the capital, Manila, following steam-driven activity and an eruption that prompted an airport closure and thousands of evacuations.

National authorities have evacuated areas at risk within a 14 km radius of the main crater of the volcano. As of 13 January, more than 24,500 people are taking shelter in 75 evacuation centres in Region IV-A (Calabarzon), with a majority in Batangas Province. It is estimated that the total population within the radius of the danger zone is nearly 460,000 people.

Initial priority needs reported in affected areas are the rapid procurement of suitable face masks, non-food items including hygiene/dignity kits, and portalets for evacuation centres. Health authorities have also warned the public to take precautions due to the health effects of exposure to volcanic ash and gases.

The United Nations is in contact with the authorities, and OCHA has conveyed the readiness of the Humanitarian Country Team to provide support if needed.

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Taal Volcano entered a period of unrest, which progressed into a magmatic eruption at 2.49 a.m. local time on 13 January. Such eruptions are characterized by weak lava fountaining accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning.

More than 75 volcanic earthquakes have been felt in nearby areas, at intensities ranging from II to V, which could mean further eruptions, according to the agency.

A level-four alert means that that an explosive eruption could happen in the coming hours or days. The highest alert level is five, indicating that an eruption is occurring.

Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed overnight, with more than 300 domestic and 230 international flights cancelled. The airport has since partially reopened.