The Taal volcano has been spitting sulfur dioxide for several days, creating a thick haze and causing health warnings.
More than 2,000 people have been forced from their homes after the Taal volcano in the Philippines began to spew steam, filling the air with poisonous gas and prompting health warnings.
Sitting on a scenic lake, Taal has been spitting sulfur dioxide for several days, creating a heavy haze over Manila and several surrounding provinces.
At least 2,400 people have fled since the government called for the evacuation of hamlets on the shores of the lake, Joselito Castro, provincial head of the disaster, told AFP news agency.
“We expect more residents to evacuate over the next few days,” he said, adding that they were seeking refuge either in schools closed by the coronavirus pandemic or at the homes of relatives.
Taal is one of the most active volcanoes in a country periodically hit by eruptions and earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, an area of intense seismic activity.
It is just 50 km (30 miles) south of Manila and for much of the past week it has dumped volcanic smog that has masked the sun in the capital.
Civil defense officials have warned that more than 317,000 people could be vulnerable to toxic gas emissions from the volcano in the worst-case scenario of the current eruption.
“We don’t feel safe”
In Agoncillo, a municipality about 120 km (75 miles) south of Manila, police officers with megaphones went from house to house asking people to leave.
Residents only have a few hours to secure their belongings and move to a safer location – again. In January of last year, the previous eruption of Taal threw ash 15 km high and spat out incandescent lava, crushing dozens of homes, killing livestock and sending more than 135,000 people to shelters.
Some families were now reluctant to leave their homes, worried about possible COVID-19 outbreaks in overcrowded spaces.
“We don’t feel safe in the evacuation centers either, so we will stay with our loved ones,” Agoncillo resident Ramon Anete told Al Jazeera.
In a center in the town of Laurel, evacuee Imelda Reyes said it was too hurtful to see her children in pain.
“I don’t really know what to say anymore,” she told Al Jazeera, struggling to hold back tears. “I’m just praying. It is a really difficult situation. “
Across the hall, another evacuee, Imelda Calapatiya, was also in distress.
“Is it the volcano, is it getting sick, getting COVID?” she asked. “It’s really difficult, I have so many children. I can’t sleep just thinking about it.