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Philippine volcano spews ash and steam, evacuation underway

March 26, 2022 GMT
Taal Volcano spews white steam and ash as seen from Balete, Batangas province, south of Manila, Philippines on Saturday March 26, 2022. A small Philippine volcano in a scenic lake near the capital belched a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise an alert level and urge thousands of residents to protectively evacuate from high-risk villages. (AP Photo/Reynante Olitan De Villa)
Taal Volcano spews white steam and ash as seen from Balete, Batangas province, south of Manila, Philippines on Saturday March 26, 2022. A small Philippine volcano in a scenic lake near the capital belched a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise an alert level and urge thousands of residents to protectively evacuate from high-risk villages. (AP Photo/Reynante Olitan De Villa)
Taal Volcano spews white steam and ash as seen from Balete, Batangas province, south of Manila, Philippines on Saturday March 26, 2022. A small Philippine volcano in a scenic lake near the capital belched a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise an alert level and urge thousands of residents to protectively evacuate from high-risk villages. (AP Photo/Reynante Olitan De Villa)
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Taal Volcano spews white steam and ash as seen from Balete, Batangas province, south of Manila, Philippines on Saturday March 26, 2022. A small Philippine volcano in a scenic lake near the capital belched a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise an alert level and urge thousands of residents to protectively evacuate from high-risk villages. (AP Photo/Reynante Olitan De Villa)
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Taal Volcano spews white steam and ash as seen from Balete, Batangas province, south of Manila, Philippines on Saturday March 26, 2022. A small Philippine volcano in a scenic lake near the capital belched a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise an alert level and urge thousands of residents to protectively evacuate from high-risk villages. (AP Photo/Reynante Olitan De Villa)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A small volcano in a scenic lake near the Philippine capital blew a white plume of steam and ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the sky in a brief but powerful explosion Saturday, prompting authorities to raise the alert level and evacuate hundreds of residents from high-risk villages.

Magma came into contact with water in the main crater of Taal volcano in Batangas province, setting off the steam-driven blast that was followed by smaller emissions and accompanied by volcanic earthquakes, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.

The institute raised the alarm at the 1,020-foot (311-meter) Taal, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes, to the third level in a five-step warning system, meaning “there is magmatic intrusion at the main crater that may further drive succeeding eruptions.” Alert level 5 means a life-threatening eruption that could destroy communities is underway.

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Residents of five lakeside villages within a 7-kilometer (4-mile) danger zone from the crater in the Batangas towns of Agoncillo and Laurel were warned of possible hazards, including fast-moving gas and molten materials and “volcanic tsunami” in Taal lake, and began evacuating to safety.

More than 1,200 villagers had moved into emergency shelters by noon, the government’s disaster-response said.

“It was a powerful burst but now the volcano has calmed down,” Laurel Mayor Joan Amo told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that up to 8,000 residents in high-risk villages in her town would need to be moved to safety if the volcanic unrest continues.

A video showed a white column of steam and ash billowing from the low-slung volcano into the blue sky. A villager witnessing the explosion amid the scorching summer heat can be heard in the background saying, “The volcano is exploding again, one blast after another, due to the intense heat.”

Renato Solidum of the government’s volcanology institute said it remains to be seen if Taal would suddenly grow more restive or eventually settle down.

“If we see that there is no escalation or the trend is downward” after two weeks of close monitoring, the institute may decide to lower the alert level, Solidum told The AP.

As a precaution, authorities temporarily banned all activities, including fishing, in the lake surrounding the volcano and asked nearby communities to brace for possible ashfalls. Aircraft were warned to stay away from the volcano due to the danger of possible “ash and ballistic fragments from sudden explosions” and other super-hot volcanic emissions.

Taal erupted in January 2020, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and sending clouds of ash to Manila, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, where the main airport was temporarily shut down. Since then, the volcano has sporadically shown signs of restiveness.

The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.

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Associated Press journalists Kiko Rosario and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.