Phivolcs: Restless Taal Volcano belches steam, more than 800 tremors recorded

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 18)– Taal Volcano ejected steam on its northern portion in the last 24 hours, indicating a dangerous eruption may still happen, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported Saturday.

"Ito po ay pagsabog sa vent ... na nasa northern flank ng volcano. Ibig sabihin 'pag ganyan po ang pangyayari, pwede pong magkaroon ng pagsabog ng walang warning sa lugar na 'yun," Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum said in a briefing on Saturday.

[Translation: This is an eruption through the vent which is on the northern flank of the volcano. This means that explosion may happen without warning on that location.]

Phivolcs, in its latest advisory, said it detected weak emissions of ash plumes from 500 up to 800 meters into the air. There were at least two weak ash explosions that were monitored.

The agency added that it has observed an increase in sulfur dioxide emissions.

Chief of Phivolcs' volcano monitoring and eruption prediction Antonia Bornas said they recorded sulfur dioxide emissions "at an average of 1442 tonnes [per] day" earlier at 5 p.m.., which was higher than their record of over 300 tonnes per day on Friday. This is due to the volcano continuously belching steam through its vents, she explained.

Ash and sulfur could cause health problems to humans.

The Taal Volcano Network, which can also detect low-frequency tremors, has also recorded 876 volcanic earthquakes within the 24-hour monitoring period, Phivolcs said. Phivolcs stated that there were 366 volcanic earthquakes detected from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Bornas said they observed a trend of weaker and fewer earthquakes. However, she said the warning will stay at Alert Level 4, as Phivolcs continues to study the movement of the volcano.

Solidum said the tremors signaled magma or molten rock movement underneath.

This activity also indicates a hazardous eruption could happen anytime soon.

"At habang may paggalaw ng magma, di pa talaga siya humuhupa" Solidum said.

[Translation: And as long as there's movement of magma, the activity has not stopped.]

Because of these observations, Solidum said people should stay out of the 14-kilometer danger zone to be safe from a possible base surge in the event of a catastrophic eruption, or the horizontal movement of hot gases, volcanic fragments and ash at around 60 kilometers per hour.

READ: How to prepare for Taal's imminent explosive eruption

The volcano eruption almost a week ago caused over ₱3 billion in losses to the agriculture sector and forced over 70,000 people mainly from Batangas and Cavite provinces to seek shelter in 300 evacuation centers, according to the National Risk Reduction and Management Council.

After decades of slumber, Taal began spewing smoke and ash, which reached parts of Metro Manila on Sunday. On Monday, its activity progressed, emitting weak lava flow. But since Thursday, state volcanologists noted a quieter volcano but with frequent earthquakes.