Schools and government offices closed and the city of Tagaytay was rocked by scores of tremors Tuesday as the Philippines' Taal Volcano spewed lava and ash a half-mile into the sky.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology set the alert level at four, meaning a hazardous explosive eruption was possible within hours to days. The institute advised residents across the archipelago to guard against the effects of heavy, prolonged ashfall.
More than 4,000 schools across much of the country were closed, halting education for 5.2 million children, the Education Department said. And almost 40,000 people from the Taal area were living in 198 evacuation centers with no timetable for going home. Many never will.
Renato Solidum, who heads the volcano institute, said authorities were closely monitoring the speed in the rise of magma, an important factor in determining whether the volcano will have a strong eruption or settle down.
“As of now, we don’t see activities slowing down, and the earthquakes still continue," Solidum said.
Not everyone was fleeing. In Tagaytay, a few miles north of Taal, many of the city's 70,000 residents warily watched and waited, sweeping ash from their homes and cars.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited the region Tuesday and said he was "very happy" with the emergency response. He also warned businesses nationwide not to hoard face masks.
The government warned that “unreasonably” high prices would bring stiff criminal charges, The Manila Times reported.
"If you hoard them I will be forced to raid your business," said Duterte, who visited the Taal area Tuesday. "For those who cannot afford it, I will give it free."
No deaths have been reported because of the volcano, which has been rumbling for weeks but began erupting Sunday. But at least six people have been treated for respiratory ailments in Tagaytay, officials said. And the nation's Agriculture Department said the volcano has killed 2,000 head of livestock.
Local lawmaker Lawrence Fortun called on the government to provide “outright grants with no repayment provision” instead of loans to farmers “who already lost everything” to the ash.
“They cannot return to the volcano island, so they have to be relocated," he told the Philippine News Agency. "It is feasible for the government to implement a program for housing and distribution of farmlands."
Fortun said the government also must help relocate fishing families in villages surrounding nearby Laguna de Bay.
The volcano institute warned airlines to "avoid airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards."
Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport struggled with hundreds of delayed or canceled flights affecting 80,000 passengers. General Manager Ed Monreal said the airport was handling about half its normal number of flights Tuesday, encouraging news after the airport was shut down by ashfall on Sunday and barely operational Monday.
"We are on the road to recovery," he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Taal Volcano eruption in Philippines could come 'within hours or days'