A tiny volcano near the Philippine capital belched a plume of steam and ash into the sky in a brief explosion Thursday, prompting an alert level to be raised due to heightened risks to nearby villages. Government experts said magmatic materials came into contact with water in the main crater of Taal Volcano in Batangas province, setting off the steam-driven blast with no accompanying volcanic earthquake. They said it's unclear if the volcanic unrest could lead to a full-blown eruption.
It's just one explosive event, it's too early to tell, Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology told a news conference. The agency raised the alarm at 1,020-foot (311-meter) Taal, one of the world's smallest volcanoes, to the third of a five-step warning system, meaning magma is near or at the surface, and activity could lead to hazardous eruption in weeks.
Alert level 5 means a life-threatening eruption that could endanger communities is underway. Officials reminded people to stay away from a small island in a scenic lake where Taal is located and is considered a permanent danger zone along with a number of nearby lakeside villages.
Taal erupted in January last year, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and sending clouds of ash to Manila, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, where the main airport was temporarily shut down. The Philippines lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.