Tens of Thousands Evacuate After Taal Volcano Erupts

Seren Park, Staff Writer

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On Sunday, Taal Volcano, located on the island of Luzon about 37 miles from the capital Manila, spewed ash up to nine miles into the air, subsequently causing earthquakes and streams of lava to gush out of the volcanic vent. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) stated that the volcano was at the fourth of a five-step alert level—a four means that an explosive eruption may take place in the coming hours or days, while a five means that an eruption is happening. 

While Taal is not a big volcano, it is considered one of the most dangerous due to the number of people who reside in its vicinity. Approximately 459,000 people live within a 8.7-mile radius, and more than 930,000 people live in a 10.5-mile radius, both of which are the major danger zones. The sudden activity of the volcano has also alarmed the residents of Manila, who number near 13 million. PHIVOLCS warns people to stay away from at least the 10.5-mile radius to avoid any potential hazardous eruptions or another long, heavy ash fall.  While people are unlikely to die directly from the lava, the ash flow, toxic gases, and the mud flow from ash mixing with water vapor in the atmosphere are, combined, the biggest sources of danger. Currently, the billowing ash above the volcano, in addition to the spread of volcanic ash, has also prohibited all flights to and from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. 

In the event of a second eruption, the ash could carry microscopic shards of glass to distant locations, contaminating the air and water supplies 62 miles around the volcano. Not only that, but there is also the possibility of a tsunami from the earthquakes if the lake water is displaced. Moreover, due to the volcano’s location on the lake, the eruption would be much more explosive if the magma interacts with the water. 

According to The New York Times, “at least 30,000 people in a nine-mile radius of surrounding towns have fled, and the United Nations says that as many as a half-million residents remain at risk.” Indeed, tens of thousands of people, if not more, have fled to temporary evacuation centers or the homes of their family or friends. The federal government is supporting the response and evacuation operation, as the army sent 20 military vehicles, 120 personnel, and helicopters to help residents. Additionally, aid organizations like the Red Cross are also assisting people to evacuate and leave their homes by providing rescue vehicles and supplies.

Despite the warnings, some villagers have returned to the island to witness the remains of their livelihoods. They returned to an island coated in two feet of ash, filled with toxic smoke and noxious gases. Livestock, plants, and buildings have been covered in the ash, and all around, there are dilapidated homes and coconut trees colored in a lifeless gray. Especially concerning are the eventual destructive effects of this eruption on the economy, as most of the island’s residents either rely on the tourism economy, in which Manila residents take boats into the lake and hike up the volcano, or the lake and surrounding land for their livelihoods—both of which are significantly threatened by a potential second eruption. 

The Taal Volcano has erupted 35 times in the last few hundred years, of which the last was back in 1977. Volcanic eruptions themselves are also not abnormal in the Philippines. Just last January, the eruption of Mayon in Albay Province, also induced a Level 4 alert.