MANILA- Filipinos on Monday hunkered down as the rumbling Taal Volcano spewed gray ash and smoke that shut down the Philippine capital and neighboring provinces.
Set in the center of a picturesque lake in Batangas, the Taal Volcano threatens a "hazardous eruption" anew 43 years since its last explosion and 448 years since the first one.
Frightened residents with swaths of cloth covering their faces fled the towns surrounding the Taal Volcano island on Sunday after an emission of hot steam and rocks.
By Monday morning, "fountains" of lava had been spotted on Taal, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.
"Ngayon lang po tayo nagkakaroon ng eruption from Taal main crater na punong-puno siya ng tubig," Phivolcs volcano monitoring division chief Ma. Antonia Bornas said in a press briefing Monday.
(It is only now that we're seeing an explosion from Taal's main crater that is filled with water.)
A 2-hour drive from Manila, the Taal is described by Phivolcs as a complex volcano with 47 craters and 4 maars or flat-floored craters.
Since its first recorded eruption in 1572, Taal has exploded for a total of 34 times with the latest recorded in 1977.
Historically, Bornas says volcanoes like Taal don't erupt "too explosively" with ejections marked by periods of weak activity and strong emissions.
"Ito po ang pangkaraniwang ugali ng Taal," she said.
(This is the most typical pattern of Taal.)
Taal recorded its deadliest eruption in 1911 when it killed 1,335 people with burning rocks, ash, and acid rain in a span of 3 days.
Phivolcs described the eruption as "very violent," characterized by the cracking of the ground and thick deposits of ashfall. The eruption gave birth to new craters of the complex volcano, Bornas said.
"After the 1911, pinutok po yung mga crater na yun," she said.
(The craters appeared after the 1911 explosion.)
Another eruption of Taal lasted for 3 days in 1965 where it killed 200 people.
On Monday, Phivolcs warned of a "highly explosive volcanic eruption" that could happen in "hours to days."
SIGNS OF A NEARING EXPLOSION
Over the past year, Bornas said state seismologists monitored an increase in Taal Volcano's activity which signaled a looming eruption.
Among the signs Phivolcs monitored are the increase in the frequency of earthquakes, the swelling and cracking of the ground, and the prevalence of a sulfuric smell.
Fish kills and the drying up of plants are also additional signs of an imminent volcanic explosion, Bornas said.
But even as signs of an imminent explosion became prevalent as early as last year, Bornas said Sunday's volcanic activity came as a surprise for Phivolcs with its escalation faster than Taal's 1911 activity.
"Frankly, ang kinagulat lang po namin ay yung bilis ng escalation.
Masyado pong mabilis for Taal, mas mabilis pa siya sa 1911 na escalation ng events," she said.
(We were surprised with the escalation of its activity. It's too fast for Taal, it's even faster than the 1911 escalation of events.)
"Kailangan po talagang paghandaan ang ganito pong mga scenario. Maaari pong paulit-ulit ating maranasan ang pagputok ng bulkan ngayon pong nagsimula na siya," said Bornas.
(We need to prepare for these scenarios. We could repeatedly experience the volcano's eruption now that it has started. It could take several months or years, we can't tell for now.)