By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) may have lowered Taal volcano’s alert status to level 3 at the start of this week – meaning a hazardous eruption may happen “within days or weeks” – but the danger of a deadlier blast than the one that occurred last January 12 remains.

In fact, the eruption two weeks ago will pale in comparison to what a UK-based Filipino volcanologist says will be a bigger blast that can cause devastation similar to a nuclear explosion.

The volcanologist from the University of London, Mai Jardeleza, posted a couple of  videos wherein she said the Filipino people may not have fully understood the gravity of the situation for a variety of reasons.

For one, Taal volcano “is one of the most difficult to predict,” she said. This is due to the complexity of its tectonic setting.

Even the most expert volcanologists would not have been able to predict the speed with which the eruption escalated. Known as an “enigma volcano,” Taal has few peers in the world, according to Jardeleza.

Criticisms on the alleged slowness of Philvolcs in raising warning signals had been raised but Jardeleza said this was unfair. The Institute is not only undermanned but, worst of all,  lacks the equipment to properly monitor the Batangas-based active volcano, one of 24 in the Philippines.

A microprobe needed to monitor Taal would cost three million pounds, she said. This translates to US$3.93 million or about PHP197 million.

She said she felt sorry for the Philvolcs employees, who had been attacked on radio by one of the notorious Tulfo brothers, who did not appreciate the fact that the Institute has no modern equipment to speak of.

Two to three months before the eruption this year, the  volcanologist said there were already warning signs such as the tremors in parts of Batangas. Also, as far back as March, last year, Philvolcs had raised Alert Warning 1, which should have served as a warning that the situation could worsen in the months to come.

Her dire warning of a far deadlier eruption than the one that took place in January 12 was due to earlier eruptions where even the capital City of Manila was affected.

Historically, the Taal eruption of 1749 lasted six full months, causing the disappearance of one town, and forcing four others to relocate farther from the lake where the volcano sits.

The last major eruption of Taal volcano took place in 1965. Some 1,500 residents are believed to have died at that time, mostly due to their failure to evacuate in time.

The biggest danger for now is the possibility of what she called a “volcanic tsunami.” Contrary to popular belief, tsunamis do not only occur from the sea, she said. Any body of water can have an earthquake-caused tsunami.

In the case of Taal, a tsunami could follow what Jardeleza described as a “nuke-like” eruption.

She specifically pointed to the town of Agoncillo to be at the highest risk, saying that as far as she was concerned the place should be totally abandoned. This is because one of the walls of the volcano had already partially collapsed and it was on the side that faces Agoncillo.

While Philvolcs said residents of the various towns who were forced to evacuate could go back to their homes this week, two towns were still on lockdown. These are Agoncillo and Laurel.

Government estimates place at 100,000 as the number of families who had been forced to evacuate, mostly from the province of Batangas. This translates to 376,327 people, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.