Philippines Lowers Taal Volcano Alert as Eruptions Wane

(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines lowered its alert on the Taal volcano south of the capital amid weaker eruptions and earthquakes that in the past weeks had spewed ash and molten rock, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

The alert was reduced to 3 from 4 out of a 5 rating-scale, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said on its website Sunday.

The agency cautioned the downgrade “should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased or that the threat of a hazardous eruption has disappeared.” Residents near the area must be prepared for a quick and organized evacuation should the threat increase again, it added.

Taal, one of the Philippines’ most-active and dangerous volcanoes, started spewing ash on Jan. 12, prompting mandatory evacuation. More than 376,000 people have been affected by the eruption. Authorities locked down towns to prevent people from returning to their communities, including on the island where the volcano is located.

The eruption caused mass fish deaths and destroyed coffee and pineapple plantations, with farm damage estimated at 3.2 billion pesos ($63 million). More than 15,790 hectares (39,000 acres) of land planted with coffee, cacao, pineapple and vegetables have been affected.

Taal Volcano is a top tourist attraction for the Philippines, which is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Battered by about 20 typhoons annually, the country also sits on the “Pacific Ring of Fire” and is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Between 2000 and 2016, natural disasters in the Philippines caused over 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 at $1.2 billion, it said.

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