Magma 're-charge' feeds Taal fury as Philippines remains on alert

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 20 2020 08:57 AM | Updated as of Jan 20 2020 11:30 AM

Batangas checks 3 evacuees' reported death: official 

Magma 're-charge' feeds Taal fury as Philippines remains on alert 1
The Taal Volcano continues to spew ash as seen from Tagaytay, Philippines, Jan. 17, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA — A "re-charge" of magma or molten rocks beneath the Taal Volcano spawned fresh earthquakes, indicating that a hazardous eruption was still possible, authorities said Monday.

Should the magma reach Taal's crater, there could be a "strong eruption," said Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum. There were 244 earthquakes around Taal on Sunday from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., stoking worries among tens of thousands of evacuees.

Also on Sunday, Taal blew 4,300 tons of sulfur, nearly triple the amount from 1,400 tons the day before, Solidum told DZMM. 

"Mayroon tayong nakikitang re-charge o re-supply ng magma na galing sa ilalim papunta doon sa volcano island at nagdudulot din ng mga paglindol," Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum told radio DZMM. 

"Posibleng kung umabot ito sa ibabaw ay magdulot ng pagsabog na puwedeng malakas," he added. 

(We are seeing a re-charge or re-supply of magma from underground heading towards the volcano island and causing the quakes. If this reaches the crater, it could cause a strong explosion.) 

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“Definitely may papaakyat na magma. May nagsusupply pa doon (Definitely there is rising magma. There’s magma being supplied),” Solidum also said in a press conference on Monday morning.

Taal last Jan. 12 spewed a giant ash cloud that reached Metro Manila, drove around 104,000 people into evacuation centers, and left at least P3 billion worth of damage to crops and livestock, authorities said. 

The volcano remains under Alert Level 4, the second-highest in a 5-step warning system, meaning a "hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days," said Phivolcs.

The strongest earthquake on Sunday struck at Magnitude 4.6 in Batangas province, which was placed under a state of calamity. 

Aside from Taal, Sunday's earthquakes were also spawned by a fault that is "separate structure" from the volcano, said Solidum. This fault in 2017 also unleashed an earthquake swarm in the same area, he said. 

Solidum said the volcanic earthquakes can mean that the water in the island and the surrounding lake is boiling and can result in steam-driven eruptions.

He said the magma movement has also resulted in an “uplift” of the volcano, causing fissures. 

“Taal Lake is being stretched, the land is being uplifted, water level is going down besides the water from the main crater being vaporized,” Solidum explained. Last week, Phivolcs monitoring showed that the crater lake was vaporized by the continued volcanic activity in Taal. It also revealed smaller craters within the main crater.

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Batangas authorities are checking reports that 3 evacuees, mostly elderly, succumbed to heart attack, said the province's disaster office head Lito Castro. 

"Kumbaga ito ay epekto rin naman ng pag-e-evacuate, pero kung ia-attribute natin sa hazard ng bulkan, e hindi naman," he said of the reported fatalities, in a separate DZMM interview. 

(This is also an effect of the evacuation, but we cannot attribute it to volcanic hazard.) 
At least 2 women gave birth in separate evacuation centers in Batangas and neighboring Laguna province, he added. 

Magma 're-charge' feeds Taal fury as Philippines remains on alert 2
Evacuees celebrate a mass at the Tolentino Sports Complex and Activity Center in Tagayta, Jan. 19, 2020, a week after Taal Volcano's eruption. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Classes in all Batangas schools, many of which are sheltering evacuees, will remain suspended until the Phivolcs downgrades Taal's alert level, the provincial government earlier announced. 

Local authorities will relocate some evacuees away from schools, while others will be asked to stay in tents when classes resume, said Castro. 

Taal, one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, erupted more than 30 times in the past 5 centuries, most recently in 1977. An eruption in 1911 killed 1,500 people and one in 1754 lasted for a few months. — With a report from Reuters, Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News