The Taal volcano in the Philippines has started spewing magma and hot ash – after 40 years of dormancy – forcing tens of thousands of people in the Batangas province to flee. The Philippine Red Cross is on the scene helping those affected.
The Batangas province is located about 55 miles south of Manila. The ash from the volcano rose as much as nine miles and spread across the Philippines. In what some described as a desperate scene, thousands of residents quickly fled the area. According to officials, more than 200,000 people are at risk if there is a major eruption and millions more could be affected by falling ash and disruption of services such as government offices, schools and airports closing. Numerous flights have already been cancelled.
The Department of Health (DOH) has advised people to stay indoors and take necessary protective precautions against fine volcanic ash, which has a sulfurous smell and could cause irritation and breathing problems. The Government ordered the suspension of government work in Manila and of all schools in the capital.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology warned that the area was at risk of a volcanic tsunami, driven by the possibility that the volcano could generate extremely destructive waves in the area. The volcano is unique, being located on an island in the middle of the Taal lake.
The Philippine Red Cross reports power is out in the region and some roads are impassable. Traffic is heavy on other roads as residents flee the area. The Red Cross is helping people evacuate, but it is not an easy task. Ashfall, rain, slippery roads and low visibility are slowing down evacuations.
The Philippine Red Cross has opened numerous evacuation centers to support the more than 24,000 who have already evacuated and deployed thousands of disaster workers including a Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment team. A humanitarian response caravan of rescue and relief vehicles including ambulances, rescue vehicles, a water tanker, fire truck, command post and other vehicles are also deployed. The Red Cross is providing services and emergency items to people in temporary shelters. Assessment teams are also on the ground.
Philippine Red Cross Chairman and CEO Richard Gordon also ordered the distribution of personal protective equipment such as eye goggles and dust masks, water and hot meal vans to the Batangas province. Gordon said presently there are more than 70 evacuation centers open and that the Red Cross is preparing to respond as needed. He said the threat now is respiratory illness from the dust and debris, especially for older residents.
From the Philippine Red Cross: “We are worried about the health risks ash fall may cause. Volcanic ash, with powder-size to sand-size particles, may cause eye and skin irritation and breathing problems. We urge people to follow advice from the Department of Health to minimize their exposure to ash and to take necessary precautions and use protection when going outside. They should cover the nose and mouth with an appropriate mask or cloth and use eye protection or goggles.”
The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) Philippines Country Office is continuing to monitor the situation in close contact with its counterparts in the Philippine Red Cross. The IFRC Philippines has also checked preparedness stocks and alerted its National Society staff and delegates for possible deployment. In addition, the IFRC in the Philippines is also issuing safety and security advice in view of the ashfall that is affecting Metro Manila.