A volcano near the Philippine capital spewed lava, ash and steam and shook constantly Tuesday on the third day of an eruption that could portend a much bigger and dangerous eruption, officials warned. Tens of thousands of people have fled ash-blanketed villages in the danger zone.
There are indications magma may still be rising to the crater of the Taal volcano, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said. It raised the alert level to 4, indicating a hazardous eruption is possible in hours to days. Level 5, the highest, means such an eruption is underway.
The volcano was launching fountains of red-hot lava 1,640 feet into the sky with dark-gray plumes of ash-laden steam that reached more than one mile high. The massive volcanic column at times flashed with streaks of lightning.
More than 200 earthquakes have been detected in and around Taal, 81 of which were felt with varying intensities. "Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity," the volcanology institute said.
The picturesque volcano in the middle of a lake in Batangas province south of Manila rumbled to life Sunday in a powerful explosion that blasted a 9 mile column of ash, steam and pebbles into the sky. Clouds of volcanic ash blowing over Manila, 40 miles to the north, closed the country's main airport Sunday and part of Monday until the ashfall eased.
The government's disaster-response agency counted more than 30,400 evacuees in Batangas and nearby Cavite provinces. Officials expected the number to swell.
Government work was suspended and schools were closed in a wide swath of towns and cities, including Manila, because of the health risks from the ash. The eruption has not directly caused deaths or major damage. The death of a driver in a crash on an ash-covered road was linked to slippery conditions.
The small island where the 1,020 foot volcano lies has for years been designated a "permanent danger zone," though fishing villages have long existed there. Those villages were all evacuated, though volcanology officials have called for a total evacuation of endangered communities within a 8.7 mile radius of Taal.
Taal's last disastrous eruption, in 1965, killed hundreds of people. It is the second-most restive of about two dozen active volcanoes in the Philippines, which lies along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where most of the world's seismic activity occurs.