Philippine villagers fear twin perils: Volcano and COVID-19 | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Philippine villagers fear twin perils: Volcano and COVID-19

Agencies | Manila

The Daily Tribune –

Thousands of people were being evacuated from villages around a rumbling volcano near the Philippine capital Friday, but officials said they faced another dilemma of ensuring emergency shelters will not turn into epicentres of COVID-19 infections.  

The alert was raised to three on a five-level scale after Taal Volcano blasted a dark grey plume into the sky Thursday, said an AP report. 

The five-minute steam- and a gas-driven explosion was followed by four smaller emissions but the volcano was generally calm on Friday, volcanologists said.  

Level three means “magma is near or at the surface, and activity could lead to a hazardous eruption in weeks,” according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Level five means a life-threatening eruption is occurring that could endanger communities.

 The agency asked people to stay away from a small island in a scenic lake where Taal sits and is considered a permanent danger zone along with several nearby lakeside villages in Batangas province south of Manila.  

A nearby town safely away from the restive volcano could accommodate up to 12,000 displaced Agoncillo residents in pre-pandemic times but could only shelter half of that now.

A laid back town of more than 40,000 people, Agoncillo has reported more than 170 COVID-19 cases but only about a dozen remain ill. At least 11 residents have died, he said. 

The 1,020-foot (311-meter) Taal, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes, erupted in January last year, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and sending clouds of ash to Manila, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) to the north, where the main airport was temporarily shut down.

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.