Volcanologists fear effects of Taal volcano activity can be far-reaching

by Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

PHILIPPINES — Public concern grew by the hour on Sunday afternoon with Taal volcano’s terrifying ash plumes.

What started out as light-colored smoke at 2 in the afternoon prompted the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, or PHIVOLCS, to raise the alert level to 2.

Since March last year, Taal volcano had been on alert level 1 because of weak earthquakes monitored in the area.

By Sunday, the volcano island, often visited by tourists, was evacuated.

At 4 pm, alert level 3 was raised as columns of ash shooting from the main crater grew bigger.

In surrounding provinces, small chunks of volcanic rocks fell from the sky, alongside rain that had become muddy because of the ash.

By then, ash plumes reached a height of 10 to 15 kilometers, while earthquakes and lightning occurred.

Flights were suspended, and motorists were stranded as they struggled to remove the mud from their windshields.

At 7:30pm, alert level 4 was raised, meaning in just hours or days a more explosive eruption can be expected.

According to PHIVOLCS, Taal is among the country’s most active volcanoes, erupting every 30 to 50 years.

But the agency’s eruption prediction division chief, Maritojn Bornas says the speed of how the eruption escalated is unusual.

“Kasi kung titignan natin yung pinakamabalis na historical eruption — Nung 1911 eruption 3 araw yung unrest.”

Based on PHIVOLCS data, Taal volcano’s first recorded eruption was in 1572, and its most intense eruption was in 1754.

“Maraming nasalanta at nasira ang maraming bayan sa paligid ng lawa.”

Bornas is hoping that the worst-case scenario won’t play out.

But experts like her also gave warnings on the dangerous effects of such eruptions, from base surge or the high-velocity spread of ash and debris, and shockwaves that were once experienced in Taal in 1911.

“Yun lang sa paligid ng bulkan nakaranas, naramdaman yung shockwave, may mga tumilapon na mga tao.”

Dr. Mahar Lagmay, executive director of UP Resilience Institute, said that “Landslides pag nagiba yung gilid ng bulkan. Pag bumagsak yan at bumagsak sa sa lake pwedeng magkaroon ng tsunami. Yung gas na lumalabas sa bulkan co2. Pag ka masyadong marami kang nalanghap pwede kang mamatay.”

The public will also have to protect themselves from the effects of the ash fall.

“Pyroclastic ash mabigat yan pag namuo yan sa bubong. Silica ito natutunaw yan pag mainit. Pagka dumikit yan at natunaw at dumikit sa jet engine eh puwedeng huminto.”

Currently, heavy ash fall is being experienced in the towns of Batangas.

Phivolcs has stressed the need for the total evacuation within the 14-kilometer radius from the volcano’s crater, which covers nearly 460,000 people.

Local disaster officials in Batangas have prepared a contingency plan in case Taal volcano erupts — this involves the evacuation of residents within a 17-kilometer radius from the volcano.

The entire area covers over 930,000 people.

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