Updated 10pm Monday: Lava has begun spewing from a volcano in the Philippines, after an earlier ash cloud 15km high prompted the evacuation of thousands of people.
Taal volcano, one of the country’s most active, is in the middle of a lake about 70km south of Manila’s centre. Authorities scrambled to evacuate locals from the island as experts warned a ‘volcanic tsunami’ could be next.
The volcano has begun “weak lava fountaining accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning,” according to a bulletin from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).
The alert level has been raised from 3 to 4 out of a maximum of five, meaning a hazardous eruption is “possible within days”.
At 4pm local time Monday Phivolcs issued a volcano bulletin describing steam-laden plumes about 2km tall as well as new vents opening up with lava fountains of about 500m.
“The Philippine Seismic Network has recorded a total of 144 volcanic earthquakes in the Taal region since 1:00 PM, January 12, 2020,” the bulletin stated.
“Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magma intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity.”
Some 45,000 residents have evacuated high-risk areas, and officials estimated that at least 200,000 residents could be forced to flee if the eruption worsens.
People were advised to avoid ashfall which could cause breathing and health problems, especially among children and the elderly.
As tremors shook the area on Sunday, extraordinary photographs captured by locals and tourists evacuation showed volcanic lightning flickering in the column of steam and ash.
Residents described mud falling from the sky and a smell like gunpowder.
Locals and holidaymakers remain on edge, with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raising its alert level to 4 out of 5 – meaning “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days”.
Terrifying yet Incredible video from Cuenca, Batangas – Philippines Taal Volcano Eruption Today! Look how electrifying it is at the end!!!
— Live Storm Chasers (@Livestormchaser) January 12, 2020
Phivolcs also warned of possible hazards of a volcanic tsunami and rapid currents of hot gas and volcanic matter that could hit areas around the Taal lake, a popular weekend getaway from Manila.
“Taal is a very small volcano, but a dangerous volcano,” the institute’s head, Renato Solidum, said.
“It is unique because it is a volcano within a volcano.”
Restaurant patron Jon Patrick Yen had an unexpected front row seat to the drama when he went for a meal in Tagaytay.
“We were having lunch when we heard rumbling. We saw the volcano erupting. It rained and some small pebbles fell to the ground,” he said.
“I did not expect to see such spectacle. We just went by to eat.”
Ash fell as far away as Manila, prompting flights to be suspended at the capital’s busy international airport.
General Manager Ed Monreal said the suspension would continue into Monday because there was ash on the runway.
Local school classes were cancelled for Monday and people are being urged to stay indoors.
One of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, most recently in 1977. An eruption in 1911 killed 1500 people and one in 1754 lasted for a few months.
President Rodrigo Duterte had instructed authorities to move people within the perimeter of Taal out of the danger zone, his spokesman said in a statement.
The ash plume was clearly visible from the nearby city of Tagaytay, a well-frequented viewing spot for the volcano.