• By Diana G Mendoza

Taal volcano: deadly beauty in the middle of a lake


Taal volcano began erupting on Sunday. Photo courtesy of GMA News Network

Manila — Jan. 12 was a quiet Sunday for Filipinos still reeling from the busy Christmas holidays, but at past 2 in the afternoon, they were shaken by the eruption of Taal Volcano, one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the country’s capital city Manila in the island of Luzon.

Images in the news and in social media showed thick, dark plumes of ash and steam blowing up from the volcano that later also showed fiery lava flowing from its vent. The eruption sent clouds of ash up to nine miles (14 kilometers) into the air, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), which placed the volcanic activity at Alert Level 4 that warned of a "hazardous" eruption that could happen "within hours to days," and which could lead to the highest alert Level 5. The institute also said the volcanic activity could last several months.

Following is a statement from United Airlines communications office:

“United Airlines will be operating an extra section on Wednesday, Jan. 15, between Guam and Manila to accommodate any remaining affected passengers as a result of the Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines.

UA2800 will depart Guam at 9:20 a.m. on Jan. 15 and arrive in Manila at 11:00 a.m. UA2801 will then depart Manila at 12:00 p.m. and arrive in Guam at 5:35 p.m. that same day. United customers can contact united.com, United reservations at 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331), their travel agent, or United’s City Ticket Office in Guam for rebooking.

All flights are subject to change based on the unpredictable conditions surrounding the Taal Volcano’s activity, and as a result, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority. United continues to monitor this situation closely to ensure that conditions are safe for travel.”

Flights were temporarily suspended due to ashfall. As disaster response agencies have reported the evacuation of more than 6,000 residents from lakeshore villages around the volcano, the Phivolcs has asked for a total evacuation of everyone within a 17-kilometer (10.5 miles) radius around the volcano, which is considered a volcanic danger zone and is home to almost half a million residents.

Situated in the province of Batangas, Taal Volcano is one of the Philippines’ staple tourist destinations because of its proximity to Metro Manila and outlying tourist attractions such as Tagaytay City. Estimated to be only 311 meters high, Taal Volcano is one of the world's lowest, smallest but deadliest volcanoes, the second deadliest to Mayon Volcano in Albay province further south of Manila.

The Smithsonian Institute classified it as a complex volcano system with 47 craters situated in the middle of a lake, Taal Lake, which fills Taal Caldera that was formed by prehistoric eruptions. Its main crater lake, measuring 1.9 kilometers in diameter, is located in Volcano Island where many eruptions have happened, the most recent and explosive one in 1977.

The Phivolcs said Taal has erupted 34 times in past decades, with varying kinds of eruptions, some destructive and powerful. Filipinos are once again being oriented with scientific terms explaining “phreatomagmatic” and “phreatic” eruptions that involve any interactions of magma, gas fusion, rock and groundwater during volcanic upheavals.

Prior to this year’s volcanic unrest, scientists at Phivolcs had recorded volcanic tremors in 2011, 2012, and 2014. But they were taken aback by the rapid speed of the eruption last January 12, 2020 after it monitored earthquakes as early as March 2019.

Filipinos are no stranger to volcanic turbulence and earthquakes that accompany them, the Philippines being in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of major seismic activity that has one of the world’s most active fault lines. The beauty of its volcanoes is the reason it has a thriving volcano tourism industry that compliments its islands that are visited by millions of tourists every year.

So as the Department of Health asked people in the island of Luzon to protect themselves by staying indoors or by wearing face masks to protect from ashfall in case they step out, the situation calls for vigilance in case the alert level continues to rise.

The start of the year with a volcanic eruption brings the reality for Filipinos that a postcard-pretty beauty sitting in the middle of a lake has the potential for terror so powerful it can wipe out the entire volcanic island from the Philippine archipelago.

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