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Thousands flee after Taal Volcano erupts, but Phivolcs says Tagaytay, Nasugbu still safe to visit

By NICK GARCIA Published Mar 26, 2022 8:13 pm

Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate from their homes near Taal Volcano in Batangas on March 26 after an eruption sent ash and steam hundreds of meters into the sky. However, state volcanologists said Tagaytay, Nasugbu, and other tourist spots are still safe to visit.

Taal Volcano exploded with a "short-lived" burst at 7:22 am, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in a statement. The initial eruption was followed by "nearly continuous phreatomagmatic activity" that sent plumes stretching 1,500 meters into the air.

A phreatomagmatic eruption happens when molten rock comes into contact with underground or surface water, said Princess Cosalan, a scientist at Phivolcs, likening it to pouring "water on a hot pan."

Cosalan told AFP that ash and steam emissions had quietened in the hours after the initial burst, but said the institute's on-site sensors continued to detect volcanic earthquakes and another eruption was "possible."

The agency "strongly" recommended residents living in vulnerable communities around the lake be evacuated, as it raised the Alert Level from 2 to 3.

Over 12,000 residents from high-risk villages were ordered to leave their homes in Bilibinwang and Banyaga in Agoncillo, as well as in Boso-boso, Gulod, and eastern Bugaan East in Laurel.

Police have also been deployed to stop people entering the high-risk areas.

In any case, Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum said in a press briefing on March 26 that they don't expect the recent Taal activity to be at par with the January 2020 eruption.

"The big difference is the rapid ascent of magma in 2020 caused the sulfur dioxide to be stored inside, propelling the explosion," Solidum said, noting that the volcano's sulfur dioxide is in lesser amounts now.

Solidum said it's still safe to go to tourist areas in Tagaytay and Nasugbu, noting that the approach should be "managing the risk."

"Sa Alert Level 3, ang nangyayari, hindi pa masyadong malakas. So walang threat pa beyond the mentioned barangays," he said. "What is important is that all restrictions will be focused on Taal Volcano and ang limang barangay na nabanggit. But all the rest of the towns outside the Taal lake, people can still visit."

Taal is one of the most active volcanoes in a nation hit periodically by eruptions and earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire"—a zone of intense seismic activity.

Access to the volcano island, which was once home to a community of thousands, has been prohibited since January 2020.

That was when an eruption shot ash 15 kilometers high and spewed red-hot lava, crushing scores of homes, killing livestock and sending tens of thousands into shelters.

In July 2021, the seismological agency raised the alert level to three after Taal burst to life again. It belched sulfur dioxide for several days, creating a thick haze over the capital and surrounding provinces. 

The alert level was lowered back to two before Saturday's eruption. (with reports from AFP)