The Taal Volcano in the central Philippines rumbled to life on Sunday, spewing ash and prompting evacuations in nearby communities -- and officials warn that a more powerful eruption is imminent. The volcano is located on the island of Luzon and is the country's second most active volcano.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the status of the Taal Volcano to an Alert Level 4 late Sunday, local time, indicating a hazardous eruption is possible within hours to days. The volcano was at an Alert Level 1 on Sunday afternoon. The alert system has five levels with Alert Level 5 meaning a hazardous eruption is in progress.
"As of 5:30 p.m. PST (1730H), eruptive activity at Taal Volcano Main Crater intensified as continuous eruption generated a tall 10-15 kilometer [32,808-49,212 foot] steam-laden tephra column with frequent volcanic lightning that rained wet ashfall on the general north as far as Quezon City," PHIVOLCS said in a statement. They added that two volcanic earthquakes of magnitudes 2.5 and 3.9 were felt in Tagaytay City and Alitagtag, Batangas.
Ashfall was reported in metro Manila, located about 63 miles north of the volcano on Sunday evening, according to CNN Philippines.
Due to the eruption, all flights, both arrival and departures, at Ninoy Aquino International Airport are now on hold. Passengers are advised to coordinate with their respective airlines for flight updates.
All classes within the provinces of Cavite and Batangas will be canceled on Monday, Jan. 13. due to heavy ashfall. Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno has also ordered the suspension of classes in all levels of public and private schools on Monday.
Evacuations are underway for an unknown number of people in the municipalities of San Nicolas, Balete and Talisay, according to The Philippine Star.
"Magma is intruding from below. If eventually this will continue to move up, then there can be a magmatic eruption which is more dangerous," Renato Soldium, PHIVOLCS officer-in-charge, told CNN Philippines.
Cameras monitoring the volcano caught ash spewing from the crater around the midday hours of Sunday.
"The public is reminded that the main crater should be strictly off limits because sudden steam explosions can occur and high concentrations of lethal volcanic gases can be released," PHIVOLCS said. "In addition, communities around the Taal Lakeshore are advised to take precautionary measures and be vigilant of possible lake-water disturbances related to the ongoing unrest."
The eruption occurred during one couple's wedding and the photographer was able to capture the moment.
Photographer Randolph Evan has been a professional photographer for almost 8 years now and has never experienced a moment like this one.
"While the bride was getting ready around 2 p.m., we already noticed white smoke coming out of the Taal volcano. Eventually, the smoke became darker as the day progressed. But miraculously we were able to finish everything from ceremony until the reception. The couple was even able to do their vows, first dance and speeches," Evan said.
Everyone was actually calm and just trying to get a feel of the couple if they would decide to evacuate or not.
"It was an intimate wedding so most of the guests there were their relatives and close friends. The mood was surprisingly relaxed. It was kind of funny because the volcano steam served like an entertaining backdrop for the guests that was just changing colors from white to yellow to pink then grey. As for the couple they seemed relaxed too and unbothered. They were still able to be in the moment for their wedding which was a relief," Evan said.
Everyone who attended heard occasional rumbles and thunder but Evan said he isn't sure if it was directly related to the volcano's activity.
"We were actually nervous because while working we kept on checking social media for updates on the volcanic eruption. So we were actually aware of the warnings and escalating levels that were being announced real-time. We also discussed discretely among ourselves what we should do when worst comes to worst," Evan said.
"The couple genuinely didn't want to cancel though, as we later found out it's because they have been planning for this day for 8 years and after 2 kids already. So this day (of all days) was always going to be special no matter what," Evan said.
A moderate to high level of seismic activity has been observed in the vicinity since March 28, 2019, according to PHIVOLCS. The agency reported three earthquake events as of early Sunday afternoon.
"A seismic swarm has started at around 11:00 a.m. and ongoing as of 2:10 p.m. Sunday," PHIVOLCS said.
"Outside of isolated showers and thunderstorms, mainly dry conditions are expected across Luzon through the beginning of the week. A tropical disturbance to the east of the Philippines will be pulled north and east, away from the area," Kelly added.
The last major eruption of the Taal Volcano occurred in 1977.