Philippines Evacuating Nearly 15,000 Around Active Volcano

BALETE, PHILIPPINES - DECEMBER 15: A destroyed house at the foothills of the volcano on December 15, 2020 in Balete, Batangas, Philippines. The Taal volcano, which erupted in January and caused earthquakes, lava flows and plumes of ash to rise to the sky, left the areas around it devastated and …
Jes Aznar/Getty

Authorities in the Philippines began evacuations in communities surrounding Taal, the country’s second most active volcano, on Thursday in response to geologists issuing an alert that “hazardous eruption” may occur within days.

The nation’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, responded to the highest-level alert of activity by joking that he would “put a cap” on Taal’s crater to prevent it from continuing to erupt. Duterte has previously offered to “eat the ash” the volcano spews and “pee” on it.

Taal has threatened to erupt on multiple occasions in the past two years and devastate the towns and cities around it. It lies about 45 miles from Manila, in the heart of the country, and authorities suggest it has the potential to be deadly.

“The advisory is to evacuate volcano island, and the high-risk barangays [neighborhoods] of Agoncillo and Laurel, Batangas … please be informed that contingency measures for this kind of emergency are already in place,” Mark Timbal, a spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), said on Thursday, according to the Philippine Star. The newspaper noted that the evacuation order affects nearly 15,000 people. The evacuation plan requires the removal of those closest to Taal from the island on which the volcano is erupting.

“We will make sure that no one approaches the said island,” the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, said on Thursday. “It is better that we be alert and ready to ensure the safety of everyone.”

Evacuations began after Philippine volcanologists observed a kilometer-high steam and magma plume erupt from the center of Taal, which suggested, government scientists said, that “magmatic intrusion” had begun in the heart of the volcano that could result in a full eruption.

“Hazardous eruption is possible within days to weeks,” government scientists said.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), the official government agency, later issued an updated statement suggesting that, “if there was an ash fall, it might be just a little bit and mainly in the crater, and maybe there will be a little to the southwest. By this time, if anyone had reached the mainland, it should have been felt.”

The update suggests that the greater Manila area is not in acute danger of damage from a volcanic eruption.

Duterte told reporters on Thursday he was not expecting to “necessarily” organize a command conference to respond to the volcanic incident.

“Maybe I’ll just put a cap on its crater,” Duterte offered instead. Duterte did not elaborate on the premise and no standard scientific method of shutting down volcanic eruption by “capping” a volcanic crater is known to currently exist.

Taal most recent experienced significant activity in January 2020, including ashes that reached into the Manila metro area. At the time, Duterte offered similarly bizarre comments that did little to elucidate his government policy. During a press conference at the time, Duterte revealed that his doctor had advised him against traveling the Luzon, the main island where Manila is located, as volcanic ash could damage his lungs.

“I was warned by my doctor to be careful [about the ashfall],” he said, arriving in Luzon. “I’ll eat that ash, and I’ll even pee on Taal, that damned [volcano].”

No public evidence exists that Duterte did “pee on Taal,” nor is it clear how that would benefit those affected by its eruption. Duterte’s secretary of defense, Delfin Lorenzana, did clarify later that the government would ban civilians from Taal’s island and keep evacuating areas near the volcano to prevent mass destruction.

“I strongly believe and recommend that we strictly implement the suggestion or recommendation that Taal island will be declared a no man’s land, don’t let the people go back in case there is a more violent explosion, the people there will perish in that island,” Lorenzana said.

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