Red-hot lava gushed out of the Taal volcano in the Philippines on Monday, with seismologists warning an eruption could happen any time.
A day after a plume of ash and steam forced villagers to flee and shut down Manila’s international airport, offices and schools, scientists said they were caught out by the volcano’s sudden activity.
“The speed of escalation of Taal’s volcanic activity caught us by surprise,” Maria Antonia Bornas, chief science research specialist at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told reporters.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage from the eruption south of the capital, which began on Sunday. But clouds of ash blew more than 100km (62 miles) north to Manila, forcing the shutdown of the country’s main airport, with more than 240 international and domestic flights cancelled. The airport partially reopened later on Monday.
The government’s disaster-response agency reported about 8,000 villagers had moved to at least 38 evacuation centres in the hard-hit province of Batangas and nearby Cavite province, but officials expect the number to swell with hundreds of thousands more being brought out of harm’s way.
Some residents could not move out of ash-blanketed villages due to a lack of transport and poor visibility, while officials said others refused to leave their homes.
“We have a problem, our people are panicking due to the volcano because they want to save their livelihood, their pigs and herds of cows,” the mayor of Balete, Wilson Maralit, told DZMM radio. “We’re trying to stop them from returning and warning that the volcano can explode again any time and hit them.”