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Hundreds of thousands of people have been told to evacuate their homes in the Philippines after a volcano started spewing red-hot lava Monday and covered the surrounding area in a cloud of heavy ash.
The Taal volcano, which sits 37 miles south of the capital Manila on the island of Luzon, began erupting Sunday, sending clouds of steam, ash, and pebble up to nine miles into the air. The resulting ash cloud covered Manila and forced the city’s international airport to shut down.
No planes have been allowed in or out of the airport since, and up to 500 flights have been canceled — though President Rodrigo Duterte’s plane from Davao managed to land at the closed airport on Monday.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), which issues alerts for the volcano, called for “a total evacuation” of up to half a million people in a 17-mile radius around the volcano, because activity at the volcano was intensifying and a “hazardous eruption was imminent.”
Video footage of Sunday’s eruption shows a thick plume of black smoke erupting from the volcano and volcanic lightning inside the clouds of smoke.
So far just 16,000 people have been accounted for in official evacuation centers, but the number of people who have fled their homes in the affected zone is likely much higher as many people will be staying with family and friends.
The military and aid organizations like the Red Cross are assisting in the evacuation effort, but some people in the affected areas weren't able to evacuate because of a lack of transport and poor visibility as a result of the ash cloud.
Others have been trying to return to their homes despite the warnings.
“We have a problem: Our people are panicking due to the volcano because they want to save their livelihood, their pigs and herds of cows,” Mayor Wilson Maralit of Balete town told DZMM radio. “We’re trying to stop them from returning and warning that the volcano can explode again anytime and hit them.”
The province of Batangas, where the volcano is located, has declared a state of calamity, but so far there have been no reports of casualties or major damage as a result of the eruption.
The Department of Health issued a warning to residents in areas affected by the ash cloud about possible health hazards, including throat and eye irritation, coughing, and skin problems. Stores in Manila reported that face masks were sold out on Sunday evening.
By early Monday, Phivolcs said there had been more than 75 volcanic earthquakes in the Taal area, and that “such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity.”
The Philippines, which lies along the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” has two dozen active volcanoes.
The Taal volcano is one of the world’s smallest volcanos, but it's also one of the Philippines’ most active and is considered extremely dangerous because of the large number of people living in its vicinity.
Cover: A family evacuates to safer grounds as Taal volcano in Tagaytay, Cavite province, southern Philippines on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)