ABRASIVE volcanic ash that Taal Volcano has been blasting into the air since Sunday afternoon, January 12, has crippled parts of Central Luzon, Calabarzon and Metro Manila.
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the country’s biggest airport, has been shut down “until further notice”. A total of 242 flights have been affected at NAIA as of 5 a.m. Monday.
The closest alternate facility, Clark International Airport in Pampanga, was still operational as of 8 a.m. Monday, January 13, 2020, but several flights were cancelled or rescheduled.
Trains in Metro Manila are still operating, but there is no air-conditioning and the windows are closed.
Classes in all levels and work in government offices, except in frontline disaster response agencies, were suspended in affected areas Monday, Malacañang announced before dawn Monday.
Financial markets were closed while banks were encouraged to exercise discretion in ensuring the safety and welfare of their employees.
Some private companies in affected areas are allowing their employees to either work from home or take an emergency leave. The Palace also encouraged the private sector to suspend work.
As early as Sunday night, January 12, pharmacies and other retail outlets in affected areas have run out of N95 masks, a more effective protective device against airborne particles.
As of 8 a.m. Monday, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office in Batangas reported that a total of 2,534 affected families, or 13,883 individuals, have been evacuated from the vicinity of Taal Volcano.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Sunday urged total evacuation from Taal Volcano Island and areas within a 14-kilometer radius from the main crater.
These areas are at high risk to pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami, Phivolcs warned in an advisory issued Sunday.
Alert Level 4 has been raised over Taal Volcano, which means that hazardous eruption is imminent within hours or days.
In an advisory as of 8 a.m. Monday, Phivolcs said phreatic explosions began at 1 p.m. Sunday and progressed into magmatic eruption at 2:49 p.m. that lasted until 4:28 a.m. Monday.
“This magmatic eruption is characterized by weak lava fountaining accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning,” Phivolcs said.
As of 5 a.m. Monday, the Philippine Seismic Network has recorded 75 volcanic earthquakes in the area. Of these, 32 were felt with intensities ranging from Intensity II to V in parts of Cavite, Laguna and Batangas.
“Such intense activity probably signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity,” Phivolcs said.
As of 8:30 a.m. Monday, officials of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) were still assessing the situation at the NAIA.
In a statement, airport officials said resumption of flight operations depend on the state of ash clouds within the NAIA aerodrome as well as the ash fall along the runways and taxiways.
Airplanes will be allowed to land and take off only when the airspace and runways are clear of volcanic debris. As soon as ash stops falling from the sky, the ash fall will have to be washed off the runways and taxiways before flights are allowed to resume.
Meanwhile, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said 996 families or 7,742 persons from the towns of San Nicolas, Talisay, Tanauan, Mataas na Kahoy, Balete, Lipa, Laurel in Batangas and Tagaytay City in Cavite are taking temporary shelter in 38 evacuation centers.
The Talisay-Tagaytay Road is temporary closed due to the ongoing evacuation of the families living near the vicinity of the Taal Volcano.
The disaster council’s operation center was placed on red alert on Sunday evening.
Meanwhile, Philippine National Police (PNP) officer-in-charge Lieutenant General Archie Gamboa assured that they will provide assistance during the evacuation of the affected individuals and clearing operations.
He, however, asked for donations of goggles to be worn by the policemen during the operations.
He also asked fellow policemen, particularly those who were not affected by the volcanic eruption, to donate at least P10 each to help the other policemen affected by the natural calamity.
Gamboa also asked for the cooperation of the public particularly to follow the evacuation plan and not to insist in going to prohibited areas due to imminent danger. (MVI with Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo/SunStar Philippines)