Philippines' Taal volcano erupts, forces thousands to flee

The sudden eruption of a Philippine volcano over the weekend has forced tens of thousands from their homes and grounded 500 flights in the country's main airport.

Red-hot lava gushed out of Taal volcano Monday, which pumped out ash that blew 62 miles north to capital Manila, closing its airport. Experts have warned that the eruption could get worse, and officials were planning to evacuate hundreds of thousands.

There have been no reports of casualties or major damage so far after the eruption Sunday, but thousands of people had to be moved to safety from the danger zone in volcano's vicinity.

Officials at the Philippine government disaster management agency told NBC News on Monday that nearly 22,000 people have already been evacuated.

But some residents could not move out of ash-blanketed villages due to a lack of transport and poor visibility, while others are refusing to leave their homes and farms.

The mayor of Taal, a town of about 60,000 people nine miles southwest of the volcano, told NBC News on the phone Monday their streets are covered in ash.

Fulgencio Mercado, 62, said tens of thousands of residents have left by car, public transport or in vans and trucks arranged by the municipal government.

But he estimates that about 10 percent of the population are still in the town, mostly people who are reluctant to leave their belongings, animals and homes.

"They should all leave," he said. "It's a mandatory evacuation."

Related: White Island volcano in New Zealand erupts

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White Island volcano in New Zealand erupts
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White Island volcano in New Zealand erupts
In this Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade, tourists on a boat look at the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)
This Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade shows the rescuers' boat leaving White Island following the eruption of the volcano, New Zealand. Officials say on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, 47 people from New Zealand, United States, Australia, Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia were on the New Zealand volcanic island when it suddenly erupted. Of those, dozens were killed, injured or are missing. Details are scarce because conditions on the island are too dangerous for officials to return and disaster victim identification experts have only begun their work. (Michael Schade via AP)
This Dec. 9, 2019, photo made from video and provided by Michael Schade shows the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)
In this Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade, rescuers land on White Island following the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead after the volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. (Michael Schade via AP)
NEW ZEALAND shaded relief map, highlighted, with WELLINGTON (capital) and WHITE ISLAND locators, partial graphic
Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern (C) with New Zealand Police Superintendent Bruce Bird (L) and Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner (R) speak to the media about the eruption of Whakaari/White Island during a press conference in Whakatane on December 10, 2019. - New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed "unfathomable grief" on December 10 after a volcanic eruption on a popular tourist island that is thought to have claimed 13 lives. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Floral tributes are placed on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images 2019)
TOPSHOT - Steam rises from the White Island volcano in Whakatane on December 10, 2019, after a volcanic eruption the day before. - New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed "unfathomable grief" on December 10 after a volcanic eruption on a popular tourist island that is thought to have claimed 13 lives. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Floral tributes are placed on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Public look out towards the coast from the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Floral tributes are placed on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: A women grieves after placing flowers on a fence at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. 5 people are confirmed dead and several are missing following the volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 10: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Foreign Minister Marise Payne addressing media at Kirribilli House on December 10, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Three Australians are feared amongst the dead and several are injured or missing following a volcanic eruption at White Island in the Bay of Plenty on Monday. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: Smoke and ash rises from a volcano on White Island early in the morning on December 10, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand. Five people are confirmed dead and several people are missing following a volcanic eruption at White Island on Monday. (Photo by John Boren/Getty Images)
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Irene de Claro, a mother of four, worried about her father, who stayed in their village in Agoncillo town in Batangas while the rest of the family fled in panic.

“My father is missing. We don’t know too what happened to our house because the ash was up to our knees, it was very dark and the ground was constantly shaking when we left,” de Castro told The Associated Press in Batangas. “Most likely there’s nothing for us to return to. We’re back to zero.”

On Monday, flight operations partially resumed, but airport officials told NBC News they were closely monitoring volcanic activity and could suspend operations at any time.

Government work and classes in schools in a wide swath of towns and cities were also suspended, including in Manila.

Taal had been restive for months until it suddenly rumbled back to life over the weekend, blasting steam, ash and pebbles up to nine miles into the sky, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

The government volcano-monitoring agency raised the danger level around Taal three notches to level 4, indicating “an imminent hazardous eruption.”

It said Monday the volcano continued to erupt, producing “weak sporadic lava fountaining” and generating steam-laden plumes about 1.2 miles tall.

The office of President Rodrigo Duterte warned of the health risks of volcanic ashfall, which can cause irritation and breathing problems, particularly among the elderly and children. Residents in affected areas are being told to use face masks or wet cloth when going outside.

The president’s own plane had difficulty taking off after the eruption caused zero visibility in some areas in the south, Philippine News Agency reported Monday.

One of the world’s smallest volcanoes, Taal is among two dozen active volcanoes in the Philippines, which lies along the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active region that is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

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