The biggest waiting game

posted January 22, 2020 at 12:50 am
by  Tony Lopez

"Just when the explosion will happen, we cannot say exactly."



We are now in the middle of the biggest waiting game in the nation. When will be the Big Bang of the now world famous Taal Volcano, its explosion or eruption, with all its fire and fury, grit and grime?

The state agency Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) raised Alert Level 4 at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12. Alert Level 4 is “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.”

After the 2:30 p.m. full eruption on Jan. 12, which lasted for about five hours, Taal seems to have simmered down and settled on just generating steam, spewing it out, along with ash and gas, daily since Jan. 12, Sunday, by the tons.

As of this writing, Tuesday afternoon, here is the latest Philvolcs advisory as of 8 a.m. Jan. 21:

“Activity in the Main Crater in the past 24 hours has been characterized by weak steam emission that generated ash plumes 500-600 meters tall and dispersed ash southwest of the main Crater. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission was measured at an average of 344 tons/day.

“The Philippine Seismic Network plotted a total of seven hundred eighteen (718) volcanic earthquakes since 1 p.m., Jan. 12. One hundred seventy-six (176) of these registered at magnitudes M1.2—M4.1 and were felt at Intensities I—V. Since 5 a.m. on Jan. 20,  until 5 a.m. today, there were five (5) volcanic earthquakes plotted, registered at magnitudes M1.6-M2.5 with no felt event.

“For the past 24 hours, the Taal Volcano Network, which can record small earthquakes undetectable by the PSN, recorded four hundred forty-eight  (448) volcanic earthquakes including seventeen (17) low-frequency earthquakes. Such intense seismic activity likely signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity.

“Alert Level 4 still remains in effect over Taal Volcano. This means that hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days. DOST-PHIVOLCS strongly reiterates total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in the hazard maps within the 14-km radius from Taal Main Crater and along the Pansipit River Valley where fissuring has been observed. Based on PAGASA wind forecast, if the eruption plume remains at 3.0 km or below, ash may be drifted to the municipalities south, southwest, west and northwest of Taal Volcano;  if the eruption plume is between 3.0 and 5.0 km, ash may also be drifted to some towns of Cavite and western Laguna.  However, if a major eruption occurs within the forecast period and the eruption column exceeds 5.0 km, ash may also be drifted over Metro Manila and parts of Laguna, Rizal, Marinduque and Quezon provinces. Residents around the volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft. DOST-PHIVOLCS is continually monitoring the eruption and will update all stakeholders of further developments.”

Shorn of its gobbledygook, Phivolcs, is, in effect saying, eruption will (not may) still happen. Just when, it cannot say exactly.

In previous years, displaced residents of 11 towns surrounding the volcano were made to wait up to three months or longer, only to see no eruption.

Taal has a history of violent eruptions. In 1754, it erupted for 200 days and destroyed five Batangas towns forever. Its lake waters rose five meters up to its present level, converting what was sea water into fresh water. Four of the five towns have since been relocated. The fifth, Sala, was not revived.

Sunday’s early afternoon eruption had no warning, except a Level 1 alert, in place since March 2019, or for more than nine months.

So if Taal could erupt even without adequate warning, could it erupt with plenty of warning? Unfortunately, volcanoes have neither logic nor sense of timing.

On Dec. 9, 2019, New Zealand’s White Island volcano erupted without warning, with 47 tourists on its crater. Five of them died instantly.

Just like Taal’s Jan. 12 eruption, the White Island explosion was phreatic (steam-driven), impulsive and short-lived, with ash plume rising three kms up from the vent.

Taal and White Island behaved similarly. They had water in their bowels, which became steam at supersonic speed, expanding at 1,700 times its original volume, creating a nuclear energy that could shatter rocks, excavate or destroy craters, mixing up with gas from below the water level, and then ejecting most everything several kms up into the air, creating a poisonous and dangerous hurricane of ash, rocks, and gas, travelling at EDSA traffic speed, causing untold damage and devastation in its wake.

The death toll in the New Zealand eruption: 19.

The death toll in the Taal eruption: 0. Why? Well, the Batangueños evacuated themselves, without need for alert or alarm from either Philvolcs or the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. That means Batangueños can well manage themselves.

Taal has plenty of water to boil. Its lake is 180 meters deep and up to 32 kms long. When the volcano boils that into steam and gas, that’s 5.7 million cubic meters of poison, equivalent to 2,300 Olympic-size pools. Add molten rocks, gritty sand and poisonous gas and you have an explosion worse than the end of the world.

• • •

Meanwhile, a friend of mine sent me a tip about a malpractice suit filed by a businessman engaged in digital media against eight leading doctors connected with a premier suburban hospital.

Just before Christmas in December 2017, the tycoon brought his son for what he thought was a routine checkup to the hospital, for persistent coughing. After two days, his son, 25, came out of the hospital a cadaver. The cause of death was “multi-organ failure secondary to infection”.

The patient was the businessman’s only son and apparently was not properly treated as a diabetic (he had been, since age 14) and thus was given medicines that worsened his condition, resulting in what is called DKA or diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening complication of diabetes.

The National Bureau of Investigation has charged the eight doctors with homicide.

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Topics: Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology , National Bureau of Investigation , Taal Volcano , Batangas , National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council
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