Philippines' Taal Volcano alert level lowered

Nellie Chapman
January 28, 2020

Taal volcano belched smaller plumes of ash Thursday but shuddered continuously with earthquakes and cracked roads in nearby towns, which were blockaded by police due to fears of a bigger eruption.

In a statement, the PCG said personnel from Task Force Taal in Southern Tagalog were on patrol in Taal lake to install buoys around the 7-kilometer danger zone of the volcano when they encountered the civilians. Thousands of villagers who have lived and worked on the volcanic island are not allowed to return permanently, said Batanga's governor Hermilando Mandanas.

An explosive eruption of the Taal Volcano no longer appears imminent, authorities said Sunday as they lifted most of a mass evacuation order but warned residents to remain ready to flee. The eruption had shut Manila's main worldwide airport for a night due to volcanic ash, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Phivolcs' findings show that the amount of sulfur oxide or ashes emitted by Taal Volcano decreased from 4,000 tonnes per day to 153 tonnes. Tens of thousands were evacuated, but there were no immediate reports of deaths among villagers. The volcano shot ash 15 kilometers high and spewed lava in the January 12 eruption, which crushed scores of homes and killed livestock as well as crops.

Taal, located just 60 kilometres from the capital Manila, is one of the most active volcanoes in a country where eruptions and earthquakes are a risky part of life.

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The group was able to generate maps using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, with resolution of up to 1×1 meter which can be used for planning and reconstruction of areas damaged by the Taal volcano eruption. Despite the risks that the volcano erupt could again erupt, many residents were eager to return home.

"The state of the Taal volcano in the two weeks ... has generally decreased with less frequent volcanic natural disaster activity, slower soil deformation ... and weak steam and gas emissions from the main crater", said the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Sulfur dioxide flux also decreased from 5,300 tons a day on January 13 to 140 tons a day on January 22. However, despite the downgraded status, agency officials warned that the threat of a violent eruption is still present.

The volcanology agency, in maintaining the second-highest alert, said a hazardous eruption is possible within hours or days and reiterated that total evacuation of the volcano island and other high-risk areas within the 14km radius from the main crater be observed.

If the volcano's activity follows a trend of "decreasing unrest" the alert level may go down further to Level 2, Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum said in a separate briefing. He also appealed to residents to respect the advisories of Phivolcs, which has come under attack by some politicians.

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