Church leaders in the Philippines have appealed for help and prayers as the country braces for a violent volcanic eruption in the middle of a lake 60 kms south of the capital Manila.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert to level four over Taal Volcano in the province of Batangas on Jan. 12 to warn the public of an “imminent violent eruption.”
Archbishop Gilbert Garcera of Lipa, which includes Batangas, immediately issued an “oratio imperata”, or mandatory prayer, while a Catholic seminary opened its doors to evacuees.
The Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay City, which overlooks the lake where the volcano is located, announced that it will be “open for shelter and evacuation” for affected families.
Taal has been known for its deadly eruptions since 1572. The province of Batangas has a population of 2.6 million people.
Archbishop Garcera joined other church leaders in asking God to spare the people from the volcanic eruption, and any subsequent earthquakes and tsunami.
On Jan. 13, ashes from the volcano spread across a wide swath of the northern part of the country, including the capital Manila, covering cars, houses, and roads.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila prayed that God’s hands “will be able to calm (the volcano).”
“Protect us from danger, especially the poor, the sick, the children, the elderly, and those who are alone,” said the prelate.
“Strengthen our desire to help and care for one another and the environment,” he added.
Archbishop Garcera instructed the archdiocesan ministry of social services “to provide support to local government units” in evacuation and relief operations.
Lava and tall columns of ash illuminated by lightning continued to spew from the volcano on Monday, grounding hundreds of airplanes at Manila’s international airport.
Authorities said at least 16,000 people have already been evacuated from their homes, while thousands more are being warned to leave for safer ground once a strong explosion occurs.
Health officials have asked the public to stay indoors. If required to go out, people, especially those with respiratory ailments, have been instructed to wear masks.
Apart from the ash, some objects up to 6.4 cm in diameter, larger than a golf ball, have reportedly fallen in areas around the erupting volcano.
The government has ordered the suspension of work in government and private offices as well as classes in all levels in at least three regions of the country.
One of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, most recently in 1977.
An eruption in 1911 killed 1,500 people, while one that took place in 1754 lasted several few months.
The most powerful volcanic explosion in the Philippines in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100km northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.
It spewed out an ash cloud that travelled thousands of kilometres in a matter of days and was blamed for damaging nearly two dozen aircraft.
The Philippines lies on the Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.