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Fearing imminent eruption, Philippines officials evacuate 450,000

Ash spews into the skies from the Taal Volcano on Monday in Talisay, Batangas, Philippines. Photo by Mark Cristino/EPA-EFE
Ash spews into the skies from the Taal Volcano on Monday in Talisay, Batangas, Philippines. Photo by Mark Cristino/EPA-EFE

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Officials in the Philippines have ordered nearly a half-million people to evacuate Monday due to danger from the Taal Volcano, which scientists believe could set off a major eruption in the very near future.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said 450,000 people are in the volcano's 10-mile danger zone and should evacuate. The Luzon island mountain on Sunday spewed columns of ash into the skies, but hasn't had a major eruption since 1977.

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Officials have increased the national alert level after clouds of ash spread for miles and closed Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Taal was forced to close several evacuation centers that were too close to the volcano.

The Level 5 warning indicates a hazardous eruption is possible within hours or days. Officials have warned a more powerful eruption is imminent.

Philippine Red Cross CEO Richard Gordon ordered thousands of masks to help residents near the ash, which can cause respiratory trouble.

"The ash is what will kill you, not the lava," Joseph Michalski, director of the Earth and Planetary Science division at the University of Hong Kong, told CNN. "The ash flow from an exploding volcano can travel hundreds of kilometers an hour."

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The Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the air quality in Taguig, Mandaluyong and Las Pinas fell to "unhealthy" levels.

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