By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz, Martin Sadongdong, and Aaron Recuenco
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has raised the alert status of Taal Volcano in Batangas from level 3 to 4, with the active volcano’s steam-driven explosion on Sunday afternoon.
As of 7:30 p.m., the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) upgraded the volcano’s alert status to level 4 as Taal Volcano’s continuous eruption generated a 10-kilometer to 15-kilometer steam-laden “tephra column” composed of rock fragments and particles.
It was accompanied by frequent volcanic lightning and rained wet ash fall on the general north as far as Quezon City, Phivolcs added.
It also recorded continuous volcanic tremor since 11 a.m. Sunday with magnitudes measuring 2.5 and 2.9.
The earthquakes were felt at Intensity III in Tagaytay City and Alitagtag, Batangas at 6:15 p.m. and 6:22 p.m., respectively.
Alert Level 4 means “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.”
Phivolcs appealed to the public to immediately evacute Taal Volcano island due to high risk of pyroclastic density currents—a fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter—and volcanic tsunami within the 14-kilometer radius from the main crater.
Areas north of Taal Volcano were also advised to take necessary precautionary measure in case of heavy and prolonged exposure to ash fall.
Phivolcs also asked civil aviation authorities to order air crafts to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose serious threats.
Due to the active volcano’s increased activity, Phivolcs recommended the precautionary evacuation of those living in Taal Volcano Island pending observation of the volcano’s condition within the next 48 hours.
Authorities are rushing to evacuate at least 8,000 people who are living within striking distance of volcanic materials.
As of 3 p.m. on Sunday, a report from the Batangas Provincial Police disclosed that all residents of Sitio San Isidro and Sitio Tabla, both located at the Pulo Island near the Taal Volcano were advised to evacuate as soon as possible.
Local officials of Talisay town, where the two sitios are located, have declared Alert Level 4 in order to expedite the evacuation.
Phivolcs said it has observed increased steaming activity in at least five spots inside Taal Volcano’s main crater at around 1 p.m. Sunday.
The largest activity was manifested by a phreatic or steam-driven explosion and has generated a plume approximately 100 meters high.
Since March 28, 2019, Science and Technology Undersecretary and Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum pointed out that Taal volcano’s seismic network has manifested moderate to high level of activity.
Phivolcs reminded the public that the main crater of Taal Volcano should be strictly off-limits because sudden steam explosions can occur and high concentrations of toxic volcanic gases can be released.
The northern portion of the main crater rim, in the vicinity of Daang Kastila Trail, can also become hazardous when steam emission along existing fissures suddenly increases.
Furthermore, the public is reminded that the entire volcano island is a permanent danger zone and permanent settlement is strictly prohibited.
Taal Volcano had a total of 33 historical eruptions and the last major eruption happened on October 3, 1977.
Phivolcs has set volcano alert levels, 5 being the highest, to serve as a warning system and risk management scheme for active volcanoes in the country.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) spokesman Mark Timbal said the affected residents were from the municipalities of San Nicolas, Balete and Talisay which are areas surrounding Taal.
“[T]he municipalities [are] conducting the evac [evacuation]. The Batangas provincial DRRM [disaster risk reduction and management] council’s Taal Volcano contingency plan is being implemented now,” he said.