Villagers flee after small volcano erupts near Manila

A small volcano south of the Philippine capital that draws many tourists for its picturesque setting in a lake erupted with a massive plume of ash and steam Sunday, prompting thousands of people to flee and officials to shut Manila’s international airport.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Taal Volcano in Batangas province south of Manila blasted steam, ash and pebbles up to 10 to 15 kilometres into the sky in a dramatic escalation of its growing restiveness, which began last year.

The volcanology institute raised the danger level around Taal three notches on Sunday to level 4, indicating “a hazardous eruption may happen within hours or days,” said Renato Solidum, who heads the volcanology institute. Level 5, the highest, means a hazardous eruption is underway and could affect a larger area.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, but authorities scrambled to evacuate more than 6,000 villagers from an island in the middle of a lake, where the volcano lies, and tens of thousands more from nearby coastal towns, officials said.

“We have asked people in high-risk areas, including the volcano island, to evacuate now ahead of a possible hazardous eruption,” Solidum said.

Renelyn Bautista, a 38-year-old housewife who was among thousands of residents who fled from Batangas province’s Laurel town, said she hitched a ride to safety from her home with her two children, including a 4-month-old baby, after Taal erupted and the ground shook mildly.

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