Just as the country appears to be heading for a return to pre-pandemic business activity levels, another severe natural disaster disrupted an otherwise serene weekend. The Taal volcano erupted last Saturday and Sunday, prompting the Philippine Institute of Volcanology (Phivolcs) to raise Alert Level 3 again.
According to Phivolvcs Chief Renato Solidum, Jr., the first eruption on Saturday, March 26 “was caused by magma intrusion into the shallow end of the crater and interaction with water from Taal Lake.” The likely scenario under Alert Level 3 is described as follows: “Sustained increases in levels of volcanic earthquakes, some may be noticeable. Appearance of low-frequency earthquakes, volcanic tremors, rumblings.
Powerful and voluminous ejections of steam and ash. Sustained increases in sulfur dioxide emission rates, ground deformation and building swelling. Summit activity may involve dome growth and/or lava flow, resulting in rockfall.
Therefore, Phivolcs “strongly recommended” the evacuation of those on Taal Volcano Island and the high-risk barangays of Bilibinwang and Banyaga in Agoncillo town and Boso-boso, Gulod and eastern Bugaan East in the town of Laurel, both in the province of Batangas due to the “possible risks of pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami if stronger eruptions subsequently occur”.
Residents of the danger zone around Taal Volcano could still remember what happened in 2020. The latest eruption warranted an Alert Level 4 declaration because it was more severe and lasted two weeks, or until January 26. Alert Level 3 was in effect from January 26 to March 19, for nearly two months, before it was lowered to the least restrictive Alert Level 1.
At that time, an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) regime came into effect across the island of Luzon due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Phivolcs reminds the public that the entire island of Taal Volcano is a permanent danger zone and that entry to the island and the high-risk barangays of Agoncillo and Laurel must be prohibited.
An additional warning was also issued: “Civil aviation authorities should advise pilots to avoid flying over Taal Volcano Island as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from Sudden explosions and pyroclastic density currents such as base surges can present hazards to aircraft,” Phivolcs said.
Although the scale of the eruptions was smaller than in 2020 – and the current number of evacuees of around 9,000 represents only a small fraction of the nearly half a million people previously displaced – calls for help have been launched. Donations of N95 masks are being requested by the Lipa Archdiocese Social Action Commission so that health and safety protocols can be enforced. It is also advised that aid is channeled through the Philippine Red Cross to ensure orderly distribution.
As the country is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the oceanic microplates of the Philippines Trench are constantly shifting, Taal Volcano’s latest activity serves as a timely warning about the need for maximum vigilance and of disaster preparedness.
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