By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

The eruption of Taal volcano earlier this month may have only been the tip of the iceberg.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) said last week that another, potentially bigger, eruption could take place “within hours to days.”

As such, the province of Batangas remained under Alert Level 4, which means a hazardous eruption remained imminent.

Philvolcs said at the start of this week that “intense” volcanic earthquakes continue to be recorded, indicating that magma is still rising within the volcano.

If a hazardous eruption occurs, Philvolcs will raise Alert Level 5, the highest level.

Tens of thousands of Taal residents were forced to evacuate when the volcano erupted on January 12.  Philvolcs had called for a mandatory “total evacuation” of Taal, especially the island where the volcano is located.

Aside from the non-stop volcanic earthquakes — mostly of low intensity — Philvolcs said there remained a “steady” emission from Taal’s main crater.

The institute said that aside from the island where the volcano is located, residents within a 14-kilometer radius must be forcibly evacuated.

Inhaling the hot gases from new eruptions will be fatal, according to University of the Philippines Professor Carlo Arcilla. He said the temperature from the magma can reach between 600 to 1,000 degrees Celcius.

In a televised interview, Arcilla said, “What will kill you is when you breathe in the 600-degree air. That’s a fast death.”

Despite government warnings, a few fishermen have been seen trying to catch “tawilis” from Taal lake. The small fish is considered a Batangas delicacy and will almost certainly disappear due to the ashfall as well as the intense heat in the lake.

The majority of the 400 horses staying at the volcanic island owned by resident tour guides have also been presumed lost.

Animal rights activists and ordinary dog lovers were able to save dogs by deploying rescue teams within the 14-kilometer radius danger zone.

The ash-fall from the eruption reached as far as Metro Manila, causing work and classes to be suspended for the first three days after.

Considered one of Batangas’s primary tourism attractions, Taal volcano is located in the town bearing the same name. Overlooking the volcano is the city of Tagaytay, usually less than a two-hour drive from Metro Manila.

The entire province of Batangas has been placed under a state of emergency, which is not expected to be lifted until the Alert Level is lowered to three or less.

Almost as severely affected by the eruption is the neighboring province of Cavite.

Because the after effects of the eruption are expected to linger for months, the Department of Education estimated that up to 30,000 students will be displaced and will have to enroll elsewhere.

Also known as a coffee growing province, the Department of Agriculture estimated that the Batangas coffee industry which produces the popular “barako” blend will be affected for the next 18 months.

Taal volcano is one of 24 active Philippine volcanoes. Although small compared to Mt. Pinatubo, which erupted in 1993, more people were affected by the Taal eruption because there is a higher concentration of residents within its immediate vicinity.

However, more Filipinos died as a result of the Pinatubo eruption. More than 700 lost their lives, mostly those who refused to evacuate their homes despite warnings from the government to do so.

As of press time, the government has not yet released data on Taal volcano casualties, although the number is expected to be small.

Taal volcano’s biggest eruption occurred in the 1754.