Authorities have warned of a “hazardous explosion” in hours or days that could devastate the region. Experts are bracing for the worst, prompting an urgent effort by government officials and volunteers to evacuate nearby areas. But this is proving to be difficult, as many residents insist on returning for their livestock and crops.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology warned that the worst-case scenario is a base surge. The U.S. Geological Survey defines this as a ring-shaped cloud of gas and suspended solid debris that travels outward from the base of an eruption column at a high speed.
“Aside from the eruption moving upwards, it’s also moving laterally. It’s not just a cloud,” said Carlo Arcilla, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of the Philippines. “Towns surrounding it will be hit” in the event of a base surge, he said.
On Tuesday, electricity was still out in Tagaytay, save for a few establishments with power generators. The eruption and its aftermath — from ashfall to dozens of earthquakes — have affected about 200 restaurants, 170 hotels and at least six major event facilities.
Hotels scaled back operations amid cancellations. Restaurants that are typically full were shuttered. One McDonald’s outlet along the main highway, which boasts a clear view of the lake, was closed as workers shoveled muck out of the parking lot.
Residents in face masks washed mud off their cars and scraped it off their rooftops.
Local tourism officer Jelanne Mendoza said visitor numbers have dropped by 70 percent from last month and that up to 100 tourism-related establishments have closed.
“As soon as our tourists and stakeholders are out of harm’s way, we will take into account the impact on tourism business,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told The Washington Post in a text message.
Sen. Francis Tolentino, a former mayor, said Tagaytay’s tourism sector is connected with livelihoods in neighboring communities surrounding the lake — and the eruption affects everything from a substantial wedding industry to small-business owners such as fruit vendors.
“With no tourism, there’s no Tagaytay,” Tolentino said.
Tagaytay is also housing at least 3,000 displaced people at 30 evacuation centers, according to the local social welfare office. That is only a fraction of the thousands who fled towns and cities in the volcano’s danger zone.
Taal is one of the world’s smallest volcanoes but also one of the region’s most active. It has 47 craters, nestled in an island in the middle of a lake. One of its most dangerous eruptions, in 1754, lasted more than six months.
The Philippines sits on the Ring of Fire and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has issued a Level 4 alert for the Taal volcano and said that it could rise to Level 5, the highest status, which would indicate an ongoing magma eruption.
“The speed in the rise of magma is important [in determining] when the volcano will have a strong eruption and if it will slow down and freeze,” said the institute’s chief, Renato Solidum, the Associated Press reported. “As of now, we don’t see activities slowing down, and the earthquakes still continue.”
This is not the homecoming that Arnel Novero, 42, had pictured. He returned from his job recently as a technician in Saudi Arabia for a two-month break.
Standing in front of a field of pineapples beside his house — all covered in volcanic ash — he said all of his crops are ruined.
His family tills a nearby plot of land, with beans and coconuts. All that produce will have to go, he said.
His mother died of a heart attack on Saturday, a day before Taal started spewing ash.
At a viewing deck overlooking the volcano Tuesday, a handful of middle-aged Korean men, clad in golfing gear, snapped a few quick selfies as the ash column rose behind them. Then they hurried into a bus, among the last few tourists to leave Tagaytay.