Lava spewed from the Taal volcano in Philippines on Monday, darkening skies as thousands of nearby residents fled the region along roads choked by cars and volcanic ash.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s ordered families in the affected communities to evacuate to safer ground, a process made difficult by the poor visibility and, for many, a lack of transportation. Hundreds of thousands of people may ultimately flee the region, officials said.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana warned that the “worst-case scenario” for Taal would be the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 90 miles to the north, that killed 800 people and rendered 200,000 homeless.
“Remember Pinatubo, the entire mountain collapsed during the eruption,” Lorenzano said. “That’s what we are fearing, that the eruption would cause the entire island to rise and scatter debris on the nearby areas.
Taal started acting up Sunday, spewing enough ash, steam and even smaller rocks nearly 10 miles into the air. The airborne debris forced the airport in Manila, 65 miles away, to shut down for several hours. Authorities warned that the airport could again be closed if conditions worsen.
“We can never predict the actions of this volcano,” Lorenzana said.
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At least 30,000 people had fled homes in Batangas and Cavite province by Monday, the nation’s disaster-response team said. More than 15,000 people had fled to emergency shelters Monday, the Philippine News Service reported.
Irene de Claro, a mother of four, worried about her father, who stayed in their village in Agoncillo town in Batangas while the rest of the family fled in panic.
“My father is missing. We don’t know too what happened to our house because the ash was up to our knees,” she said. “It was very dark and the ground was constantly shaking when we left.
“Most likely there’s nothing for us to return to. We’re back to zero.”
Taal, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes, is among two dozen active volcanoes in the Philippines. The country is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Contributing: The Associated Press