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Evacuation urged as Philippine volcano spews steam, ash

Magma came into contact with water in the main crater of Taal volcano, setting off the steam-driven blast followed by volcanic earthquakes.

MANILA, Philippines — A small volcano in a scenic lake near the Philippine capital belched a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise the alert level and urge thousands of residents to protectively evacuate from high-risk villages.

Magma came into contact with water in the main crater of Taal volcano in Batangas province, setting off the steam-driven blast that was followed by smaller emissions and accompanied by volcanic earthquakes, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.

The institute raised the alarm at the 1,020-foot (311-meter) Taal, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes, to the third level in a five-step warning system, meaning “there is magmatic intrusion at the main crater that may further drive succeeding eruptions.”

Residents of five lakeside villages in the Batangas towns of Agoncillo and Laurel were warned of possible hazards, including fast-moving gas and molten materials and “volcanic tsunami” in the volcanic lake, and urged to evacuate to safer areas.

Credit: AP
Taal Volcano spews white steam and ash as seen from Balete, Batangas province, south of Manila, Philippines on Saturday March 26, 2022. A small Philippine volcano in a scenic lake near the capital belched a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise an alert level and urge thousands of residents to protectively evacuate from high-risk villages. (AP Photo/Reynante Olitan De Villa)

“It was a powerful burst but now the volcano has calmed down,” Laurel Mayor Joan Amo told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that about 8,000 residents in high-risk villages in her town were ready to be moved to safety if the volcanic unrest continues.

Renato Solidum of the government’s volcanology institute said it remains to be seen if Taal would suddenly grow more restive or settle down.

“If we see that there is no escalation or the trend is downward” after two weeks of close monitoring, the institute may decide to lower the alert level, Solidum told The AP.

Taal erupted in January 2020, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and sending clouds of ash to Manila, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, where the main airport was temporarily shut down. Since then, the volcano has sporadically shown signs of restiveness.

The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.

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