‘Explosive volcanic eruption’ is imminent

Taal volcano, a popular tourist attraction set in the centre of a picturesque lake, spewed ash, rumbled with earthquakes and exploded with lightning above its crest.

Thousands of people living nearby were evacuated from their homes, but other locals weighed up whether or not to flee the area.

Taal volcano spews ash, steam and rocks in a huge plume on Sunday, prompting thousands of residents to flee and officials to temporarily suspend flights. Picture: Anna Mendoza

Taal volcano spews ash, steam and rocks in a huge plume on Sunday, prompting thousands of residents to flee and officials to temporarily suspend flights. Picture: Anna MendozaSource:Supplied

People watch as smoke and ash rise from the volcano. Picture: AP/Aaron Favila

People watch as smoke and ash rise from the volcano. Picture: AP/Aaron FavilaSource:AP

A “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days”, the nation’s seismological agency warned.

“I’m afraid that it might erupt … but I’ll leave it to fate. I just have to pray,” Eduardo Carino, who works in a hotel near the volcano, told AFP.

After the ash cloud reached 15,000 metres into the atmosphere, aviation officials ordered a suspension of flights to and from the capital’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Authorities initially halted operations at the airport for a few hours but later on Sunday announced flights would be suspended “until further notice”.

The volcano draws many tourists for its picturesque setting in a lake. Picture: AP/Bullit Marquez

The volcano draws many tourists for its picturesque setting in a lake. Picture: AP/Bullit MarquezSource:AP

Lightning flashes as the Taal volcano erupts on Sunday. Picture: AP/Bogie Calupitan

Lightning flashes as the Taal volcano erupts on Sunday. Picture: AP/Bogie CalupitanSource:AP

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) cited a threat to aircraft from “ballistic fragments”.

Transport secretary Arthur Tugade had instructed aviation officials to “do whatever is necessary in the interest of public safety”, a joint statement from air and transport authorities read.

‘DANGEROUS TO INHALE’

Government seismologists recorded magma moving towards the crater of Taal, one of the country’s most active volcanoes located 65 kilometres south of Manila.

Taal’s last eruption was in 1977, Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum told AFP. Several tremors were felt within the vicinity of the volcano, seismologists said.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated. Picture: Lester Matienzo via AP

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated. Picture: Lester Matienzo via APSource:AP

Ash has rained on nearby areas. Picture: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Ash has rained on nearby areas. Picture: Ezra Acayan/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

The local disaster office said it had evacuated more than 2000 residents living on the volcanic island, which lies inside a bigger lake formed by previous volcanic activity.

Mr Solidum said officials would also order the evacuation of people living on another island nearby if the situation worsened.

“Ash has already reached Manila … it is dangerous to people if they inhale it,” he told AFP.

Apart from the ash, some particles up to 6.4 centimetres in diameter – larger than a golf ball – had reportedly fallen in areas around the lake, Phivolcs said early today.

Residents use plastic bags to shield themselves from ash mixed with rainwater. Picture: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Residents use plastic bags to shield themselves from ash mixed with rainwater. Picture: Ezra Acayan/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Residents flee their homes. Picture: AP/Aaron Favila

Residents flee their homes. Picture: AP/Aaron FavilaSource:AP

By that time 52 volcanic earthquakes had occurred, it said.

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

Social media users posted images of cars and porches coated in fine, dark-coloured grit and commented on where to buy dust masks.

Earthquakes and volcanic activity are not uncommon in the Philippines due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide deep below the earth’s surface.

Residents evacuate on Sunday as the volcano roars to life. Picture: AP/Aaron Favila

Residents evacuate on Sunday as the volcano roars to life. Picture: AP/Aaron FavilaSource:AP

A man uses an umbrella to shield himself from ash fall. Picture: AP/Aaron Favila

A man uses an umbrella to shield himself from ash fall. Picture: AP/Aaron FavilaSource:AP

Two years ago, Mount Mayon displaced tens of thousands of people after spewing millions of tonnes of ash, rocks and lava in the central Bicol region.

The most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.

It spewed out an ash cloud that travelled thousands of kilometres in a matter of days and was blamed for damaging nearly two dozen aircraft.