A volcano near the Philippine capital of Manila started spewing lava fountains on Monday, as the country’s specialist volcano institute warned of a “hazardous explosive eruption” that could affect hundreds of thousands of people.
At least one person has died in a road accident caused by zero-visibility from falling ash from Taal Volcano in Batangas province, 66 kilometres south of Manila.
The volcano began erupting on Sunday when it spewed ash and steam in a white and grayish cloud that reached up to 15 kilometres in height.
Some 45,000 residents have evacuated high-risk areas and officials estimated that at least 200,000 residents could be forced to flee if the eruption worsens.
The “magmatic eruption [of Taal Volcano] is characterised by weak lava fountaining accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in an update.
The institute raised the alert at the volcano to level four, the second-highest level.
The current level means that “a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours or days,” it added.
The institute said it recorded at least 75 volcanic earthquakes overnight from Taal Volcano, with 32 of the tremors felt at various intensities.
“Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity,” the institute said in its bulletin.
Heavy ash fall and showers of pebbles rained over towns surrounding Taal Volcano, covering roads, houses, cars, trees and other infrastructure.
The ash turned into sludge as rain fell overnight.
In nearby Laguna province, a man died when a truck he was driving overturned in zero-visibility conditions caused by the ash fall in Calamba City, 26 kilometres north-east of Taal Volcano, police said.
Three passengers – two men and a woman – were injured in the accident before dawn on Monday.
The truck was negotiating a sharp curve when the driver lost control “due to zero visibility (with) the windshield covered in ashes,” a police report said.
“That resulted in the vehicle turning upside down and hitting a concrete post,” the report added.
Manila’s international airport resumed partial operations at noon on Monday, after closing overnight due to falling ash.
Nearly 200 international and domestic flights were cancelled due to the temporary closure.
Ed Monreal, general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority, said less than an inch of ash layer covered the airport’s runways and ramps overnight.
A flight to Hong Kong was the first to take off from the airport, while a flight from New York was the first to land.
School classes were suspended and government offices closed on Monday in metro Manila, Batangas and 11 other provinces affected by the eruption and ash fall.
Maria Bornas, Head of the Volcano Monitoring in Phivolcs, said it was not yet clear how long Taal Volcano will be erupting, noting that two past eruptions showed two different types of activity.
In 1911, the deadliest eruption lasted for three days, killing more than 1,300 people.
But in 1754, Taal Volcano erupted for seven months, with the activity waning and escalating from May to December.
Taal Volcano, the second most active volcano in the Philippines, has erupted 33 times since 1572, Phivolcs said.
Its last eruption was in October 1977.