MANILA – Philippine authorities extended on Tuesday a high alert over the possible eruption of the Taal volcano, which remained active for a third day with more than 40,700 people evacuated from its surroundings.
But the capital Manila – situated some 60 kilometers (37 miles) away – slowly returned to normalcy after air quality improved.
The volcano has been in a state of constant eruption for three days.
In the last 24 hours it has generated 500-meter-high lava fountains and 2-kilometer smoke plumes, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in a statement.
Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum warned on Tuesday that the eruption was not showing signs of subsiding – even though the smoke and ash clouds had reduced in size – as tremors caused by the magma climbing up in the crater continued.
Solidum said such seismic activity could lead to a bigger eruption, warning that Taal was a “very small but very dangerous” volcano.
Since Sunday, when it became active, the volcano has caused 286 earthquakes, 125 of them of sufficient intensity to be felt, with magnitudes ranging from 1.2 to 4.1.
Phivolcs has maintained the alert at level 4 – out of a scale of 5 – which means small lava emissions and that a hazardous eruption is imminent with a risk of volcanic tsunamis, as Taal – one of the smallest volcanoes in the world – is situated in the middle of a lake.
The earthquakes have caused cracks and fissures in 15 towns close to Taal and three highways in the Batangas province, which blocked roads and checkposts have been established due to security reasons.
The checkposts aim to prevent people displaced by the volcanic activity from returning to their homes in order to salvage their belongings, as the risk of eruption persists.
The level-4 alert forced the evacuation of all populations in a radius of 14 kilometers around the volcano, an area which has been covered by a thick grey cloud since Sunday.
A total of 40,752 people living in the danger zone have been evacuated, with 38,200 of them housed in 198 evacuation centers set up for the occasion, according to the latest data released by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
The majority of the families living near the volcano depend on livestock farming and fishing in the Taal lake for their livelihood, and have lost their means of subsistence due to the eruption.
The eruption has affected crops of rice, corn, coffee, cocoa and banana spread over 2.772 hectares in Batangas province and killed 1,967 livestock animals, resulting in losses worth 577 million pesos ($11.5 million), according to the department of agriculture.
In Manila, the situation returned to normal with establishments and shopping centers remaining open throughout the day and official institutions functioning normally, a day after they were closed due to the risk posed by the inhalation of toxic smoke which had reached the city.
Schools and universities remained closed on Tuesday, but are set to open on Wednesday, while many flights at the Manila airport had to be canceled as it struggled to resume normal operations after being shut down on Sunday.
Although the airport partially resumed operations by noon on Monday, a total of 605 flights – including 243 international services – have been canceled since Sunday.
The air quality in Manila improved on Tuesday, after the authorities advised the use of N95 masks on Sunday due to the ash and toxic smoke from Taal worsening the city’s air.
According to the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, on Tuesday the level of polluting particles in Manila’s air was measured at 11-15 micrograms per cubic meter, a normal reading which was below the threshold of 25, making it unnecessary to wear masks.
The volcano, which has erupted 33 times since 1572, caused some 1,300 deaths in an eruption in 1911 and 200 in 1965.
Taal is an island within the lake of the same name, located within a caldera formed by a previous eruption and is part of a volcanic chain that extends through the western region of the island of Luzon.