Taal Volcano spews lava in magmatic eruption as hazardous explosion remains imminent

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — Taal Volcano had a magmatic eruption early Monday morning after spewing only smoke and ash since Sunday afternoon, state seismologists said.

A "weak" lava fountain erupted from the active volcano for an hour and a half, from 02:49am to 04:28am, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) said on Monday. This was accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning triggered by the eruption.

PHIVOLCS has recorded a total of 144 earthquakes in the Taal region since 1 p.m. on Sunday, when the volcano showed a marked increase in activity.

"Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magma intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further euptive activity," the institute said.

PHIVOLCS Officer-in-Charge Renato Solidum said the lava fountain should not cause increased concern as it does not mean the volcano has entered the "hazardous explosive eruption" phase although that is a possibility.

He added that it is an expected activity of the volcano, but the development means that lava has reached the surface of the volcano.

"We haven't seen yet the hazards of the 1965, 1911, and 1754 eruption manifested in Taal Volcano. [If it is a hazardous eruption], we will see flows of ashes, rocks, gas at speeds of more than 60 kph horizontally and that can move across the lake," he said.

State seismologists said they were surprised at how quickly the eruption escalated. saying it occurred faster than the Taal eruptions in 1911. The Taal Volcano eruptions in January 1911, which lasted for three days, claimed the lives of 1,335 people. They said the worst-case scenario is for the eruption to be prolonged, like the 1754 eruption that lasted for seven months.

Alert Level 4 remains over Taal Volcano, which means a "hazardous explosive eruption" can happen within hours or days. Under this threat level, more magmatic eruptions are expected. Phivolcs warned this can progress into a highly-hazardous eruption.

Solidum said in a press brifieng Monday afternoon that activity in the volcano has decreased compared to Sunday, when it spewed an ash plume at around 2 p.m. and showed increasing volcanic activity, prompting authorities to raise alert levels two, three and four in a period of a few hours.

Heavy ashfall has occured over the towns of Cuenca, Lemery and Taal, and the city of Batangas in Batangas province. Ash from the volcano has reached as far up north as Quezon City, prompting residents to rush to stores to buy face masks — which are rapidly running out.

The state weather bureau said ash from the volcano is expected to head towards Laguna, Rizal and Northern Quezon.

The volcano's unrest has affected 10,715 people, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, while over 16,000 individuals in Batangas — which is now under a state of calamity — have been evacuated to 56 evacuation centers.

Taal's impending eruption has also prompted Malacañang to suspend classes in all levels and government work in Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon for Monday. Lorenzana said disaster reduction officials will assess tonight whether to lift or continue with the suspension on Tuesday.

Since March 2019, state seismologists have been monitoring Taal Volcano, which is one of the smallest in the world and is the second-most active volcano in the Philippines. Its last eruption was in 1977.