Lava has begun spewing from a volcano in the Philippines as authorities warned of “an imminent hazardous eruption”.
The Taal volcano began to erupt in the early hours of Monday and followed clouds of ash and steam emanating from the site, south of the capital Manila, on Sunday.
Authorities scrambled to evacuate villagers from an island in the middle of a lake, where the volcano lies, and tens of thousands more from nearby coastal towns, officials said.
Clouds of ash blew more than 62 miles north of the Taal volcano, reaching the capital.
All departing and arriving international and domestic flights were suspended on Sunday night at Manila’s international airport “due to volcanic ash in the vicinity of the airport” and nearby air routes, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said.
The government’s disaster-response agency and police reported about 13,000 villagers have moved to at least 38 evacuation centres in the province of Batangas and nearby Cavite province, but officials expect the number to swell with hundreds of thousands more being brought out of harm’s way.
Some residents could not move out of ash-blanketed villages due to a lack of transport and poor visibility while others refused to leave their homes and farms, according to officials.
“We have a problem, our people are panicking due to the volcano because they want to save their livelihood, their pigs and herds of cows,” mayor Wilson Maralit of Balete town told DZMM radio.
“We’re trying to stop them from returning and warning that the volcano can explode again anytime and hit them.”
The government volcano-monitoring agency raised the danger level around Taal three notches to level four, indicating “an imminent hazardous eruption.”
Level five, the highest, means a hazardous eruption is underway and could affect a larger area with high-risk zones that would need to be cleared of people, said Renato Solidum, who heads the institute.
One of the world’s smallest volcanoes, Taal is among two dozen active volcanoes in the Philippines, which lies along the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a seismically active region that is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
About 20 typhoons and other major storms each year also lash the Philippines, which lies between the Pacific and the South China Sea, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.