Manila (AFP) – The Philippines was on alert Monday for the “explosive eruption” of a volcano south of Manila, which officials said could be imminent after a massive column of ash forced a halt to flights at the capital’s main airport.
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 whether or not to flee the area.
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 50,000 feet (15,000 metres) into the atmosphere, aviation officials ordered a suspension of flights to and from the capital’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Authorities initially halted operations at NAIA for a few hours, but later on Sunday announced that flights would be suspended “until further notice”.
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”, said a joint statement from air and transport authorities.
– ‘Dangerous to inhale’ –
Government seismologists recorded magma moving towards the crater of Taal, one of the country’s most active volcanoes located 65 kilometres (40 miles) 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.
The local disaster office said it had evacuated more than 2,000 residents living on the volcanic island, which lies inside a bigger lake formed by previous volcanic activity.