Thousands Evacuate In the Philippines Over Fear of Volcanic Eruption

Taal, one of the country’s most active volcanoes, is located south of the capital Manila on the island of Luzon.

Thousands fled the Philippines capital city of Manila on Monday as the nearby Taal Volcano spewed ash and lava. 

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert level for Taal to four, which means an eruption is imminent. Five is the highest alert level, indicating an actual eruption. The volcano started rumbling on Sunday, according to Philippine News Agency, and at least 15,000 people fled their homes to emergency shelters.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered residents in nearby areas to evacuate, though the trek is difficult because of poor visibility and lack of transportation, according to USA Today. Schools in some cities in the capital are expected to remain closed on Tuesday. 

Officials have also warned that the ash can contain small shards of glass that could contaminate air and water supplies in nearby regions. 

Taal is one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines. In the past five centuries, it has erupted dozens of times, most recently in 1977. In 1991, an eruption of another volcano Mount Pinatubo left 800 people dead and 200,000 without homes.

"Worst case scenario is the volcano will blow up like Pinatubo. Remember Pinatubo, the entire mountain collapsed during the eruption,” said Department of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a press briefing. “That's what we are fearing, that the eruption would cause the entire island to rise and scatter debris on the nearby areas. Hopefully this will not happen. We can never predict the actions of this volcano.”

While thousands are evacuating from the popular tourist island and surrounding areas, some tourists are reportedly traveling closer to the volcano to get an up-close look and take photos.  

More than 500 flights at Manila’s international airport were delayed or canceled on Sunday, but airport operations resumed Monday.

Taal is one of a belt of volcanoes that makes up the “Ring of Fire,” an area circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.