(Bloomberg) -- A tangle of cracks has opened up around an erupting volcano in the Philippines that’s triggered hundreds of earthquakes and urgent pleas for residents to evacuate areas at risk of dangerous fissures and ashfall.
Police locked down three towns near Taal Volcano, 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Manila, to prevent residents from returning home. More than 82,000 people are sheltering in evacuation centers, the head of the military’s taskforce on Taal said. Still, thousands have refused to leave their homes or drifted back, even as the volcano spews plumes of ash and debris.
More areas are being considered to be placed under lockdown, the military said. Soldiers and police were also deployed to patrol vacated areas to prevent looting.
“Hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said in a 5:00 p.m. bulletin, repeating warnings since Sunday, when Taal entered a period of intense unrest.
New cracks were observed in a dozen towns, along with the drying up of portions of the nearby Pansipit River, the agency said. Satellite images showed that the main crater lake has been drained and new vent craters have been formed, it added.
That’s a sign that magma could be rising from underground, the agency’s chief Renato Solidum said. Taal Volcano, which lies in the middle of a lake, is a tourist attraction and is among the nation’s most active volcanoes.
A 65-year-old woman died of cardiac arrest while evacuating the town of Talisay on Monday, the Office of Civil Defense said Wednesday.
Dark gray, steam-laden plumes have risen above the main crater and the eruptions precipitated 53 volcanic earthquakes in the 11 hours through 4 p.m. Wednesday, adding to the hundreds reported earlier in the week, the volcanology agency said.
“Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity,” the agency added.
Farm damage from the eruption, including rice, corn, coffee, cacao and bananas, has reached 577.59 million pesos ($11.4 million), the Agriculture Department said. Mass fish deaths are expected in the lake surrounding the volcano.
It’s difficult to predict how long the volcano could remain at the current heightened level of activity, said Mario Aurelio, director of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of the Philippines. Previous eruptions suggest it could persist for weeks to months, he said.
“This eruption is unlike before,” said 80-year-old Lucia Masambique, who was living in a village on the lakeside of the Taal Volcano when it last erupted in 1977. She didn’t have to evacuate back then.
Masambique and her family of 20 are taking refuge in a school in the inland city of Santo Tomas in Batangas -- their second move since the eruption. They will have to transfer again by Saturday because students will need the rooms for exams.
The economic impact of the eruption is estimated at 7.6 billion pesos ($150 million) so far in Batangas province where the volcano is located, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a mobile-phone message. Its impact on first-quarter growth will likely be “insignificant” although inflation may accelerate, he said.
The Philippine stock index fell 1.7% on Wednesday to its lowest since Dec. 19, while the peso fell 0.3% to 50.715 against the U.S. dollar.
President Rodrigo Duterte in a briefing on Tuesday told local officials that the national government will help meet the evacuees’ needs. The government has “more than enough funds” to support affected localities, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said separately.
Between 2000 and 2016, natural disasters in the Philippines caused more than 23,000 deaths and affected 125 million people, according to the Asian Development Bank. The socioeconomic damage was about $20 billion with average annual damage estimated at $1.2 billion, it said.
(Adds economic planning chief’s comment in 14th paragraph, new anecdote in 12th.)
--With assistance from Clarissa Batino, Ian Sayson and Cecilia Yap.
To contact the reporters on this story: Andreo Calonzo in Manila at email@example.com;Claire Jiao in Manila at firstname.lastname@example.org;Ditas Lopez in Manila at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cecilia Yap at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jason Gale, Muneeza Naqvi
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