A mass evacuation is underway in the Philippines, where an erupting volcano 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of the capital has triggered some 75 earthquakes and spewed “ballistic fragments,” forcing the nation’s financial markets to suspend trading and Manila airport to close.
A “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Monday morning. More than 23,000 people have been evacuated since late Sunday, with plans to move as many as 200,000 people. Officials ordered schools and government offices shut, and advised private businesses to do the same.
Weak lava fountaining, accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning, indicated intense activity at the main crater of the Taal Volcano, the volcanology agency said. Dozens of towns and urban areas all the way to Metro Manila, including the main business district of Makati City, are enduring ash fall and volcanic particles up to 2.5 inches (64 millimeters) in diameter.
The Philippines is “well prepared financially to handle any fallout and damage from this eruption,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez told Bloomberg Television. The government has set aside at least $50 million in emergency fund and can tap catastrophe financing to fund rebuilding, he said.
“It’s been endless evacuation since last night,” said Lita Laverinto, an operations officer with the Office of Civil Defense in Calabarzon. “We need masks; our volunteers and respondents who are directing rescues and evacuation really need them.”
Manila’s international airport, the country’s main gateway, partially opened for departures at 10 a.m. and arrivals at noon, authorities said in a statement. More than 240 flights had been canceled since Sunday, affecting about 60,000 passengers, according to separate statements from Cebu Air Inc. and Philippine Airlines Inc., before the resumption of flights.
Bank of the Philippine Islands, the nation’s oldest lender, suspended operations in “badly affected areas,” mostly in Batangas and Cavite and allowed some staff in less-affected areas to work remotely, according to Owen Cammayo, vice president of corporate communications. Security Bank Corp. said it shut its branches in Metro Manila, central and southern Luzon on Monday.
Ayala Land Inc. said its 2 malls near Taal volcano are closed Monday for safety checks and clearing works. SM Prime Holdings Inc., the largest Philippine shopping mall operator, shut its 25,000 square meter mall in Lemery, a town in Batangas.
About 23,700 evacuees from more than a dozen towns have been moved to evacuation centers in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. Hundreds of thousands more may need to be evacuated if eruptions in the main crater cause surrounding craters to explode.
Taal is considered the second-most active volcano in the Philippines. Located in the middle of a lake less than 10 kilometers inland of Balayan Bay on the island of Luzon, Taal Volcano has some 30 active craters, according to Batangas province Vice Governor Mark Leviste.
A change of wind direction means ash is blowing over municipalities not included in earlier emergency plans, swelling the number of communities affected.
“Our problem is access to affected areas,” said Jovener Dupilas, an information officer with the Office of Civil Defense. “The ash fall is so thick and heavy that visibility is poor and some trees even fell.”
In metropolitan Manila, traffic is lighter than usual, indicating that while many private companies haven’t suspended work, many employees have stayed home anyway.
The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Battered by about 20 typhoons annually, the country also sits on the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” subjecting it to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Between 2000 and 2016, natural disasters in the Philippines caused more than 23,000 deaths and affected 125 million people, according to the Asian Development Bank.
The socioeconomic damage was about $20 billion with average annual damage estimated at $1.2 billion, it said.