Taal Volcano (2½ hours from Manila) is regarded the world’s smallest active volcano and one of its deadliest. It also has the unusual distinction of being the world's only volcano within a lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcano. The largest lake is inside a large volcanic caldera that was produced hundreds of thousands of years ago by a catastrophic eruption by a supervolcano that was thousands of times larger than Krakatua. Inside the lake is a smaller volcano and lake with a small island topped by a relatively new volcanic crater.

Taal is only 1,000 feet tall but don't let its small size deceive you. It has a deadly history. The worst of its numerous eruptions killed thousands of people in 1754. But as devastating as this eruption was it also provided nutrients for the region's fertile soil which today is ideal for raising sugar cane, coffee and cattle.

The main lake at Taal is 30 kilometers across and is filled with dugout canoes, small boats, and motor-powered outriggers. Once part of an the ocean channel in Balayan Bay in the South China Sea, the lake was created during the 1754 eruption, when a huge lava flow surged into the sea and transformed the channel into a lake. As the water in the lake rose entire towns were submerged and the water became less and less salty. Today it is a fresh water lake, even though it contains salt water species, such as sardines and highly venomous sea snakes that have adapted to the fresh water. Up until 70 years ago, there were even freshwater sharks in the lake.

Inside the small crater lake within Taal volcano is a tiny volcanic island that emits sulfur and steam. This island was immortalized by "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as the "amazing island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island." Steam and sulfur also rise from yellow furmoles on the slopes of Taal volcano and the cliffs on the interior of the crater.

According to volcanodiscovery.com: Taal volcano with its lake-filled 15-x-20 kilometers wide Talisay (Taal) caldera is a beautiful caldera volcano, but also one of the most active and dangerous volcanoes of the Philippines. The Taal caldera is largely filled by Lake Taal, whose 267 square kilometer surface lies only three meters m above sea level. The maximum depth of the lake is 160 meters, and contains several eruptive centers submerged beneath the lake. [Source: volcanodiscovery.com ]

Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau in 1911, wrote: “Taal Volcano rises out of a small island in Lake Bombon. The height of the crater walls varies between 150 and 304 meters (492 and 996 feet). 1) The volcano, properly speaking-that is, the communication between the surface and the earth's interior, or at least the channels of the recorded eruptions-is not confined to the actual crater, nor to the whole of the island called Pulo Volcan, but includes likewise a large part of the depression occupied by Lake Bombon. 2) All the eruptions, of which a record has been preserved, have had the same general character as the latest, all consisting in explosions which hurled the volcanic products to great distances. 3) There never issued any lava in the molten state, but always blown to dust and ashes by the pressure of gases or steam. [Source: The eruption of Taal volcano, January 30, 1911, by Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau, quod.lib.umich.edu *=*]

“The towns of Taal, Lipa, Sala, and Tanauan, mentioned in the ancient descriptions, were up to 1754 situated on the southern, eastern, and northern shores, respectively, of Lake Bombon, at distances from the crater only slightly exceeding 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). The destruction caused by the outbursts of 1716 and 1754 involved all the shores of Lake Bombon. Secondly, we must remember that throughout the region in question, there neither exist to-day, nor ever have existed in the past, any other stone buildings with tile roofs than the church, convento, municipal building, government house, and some other structure of a public character. Nearly all the other buildings were, and actually are, constructed of what are locally called "light materials;" viz, of bamboo thatched with nipa leaves or grass. Only the houses of the well-to-do families are usually of wood with roofs of nipa, cogon grass, or similar material. Iron roofing is only now being introduced. *=*

Taal Eruptions

Taal is a Pelean-type active volcano. Peléan eruptions are a type of volcanic eruption. They can occur when viscous magma, typically of rhyolitic or andesitic type, is involved, and share some similarities with Vulcanian eruptions. The most important characteristics of a Peléan eruption is the presence of a glowing avalanche of hot volcanic ash, a pyroclastic flow. Formation of lava domes is another characteristical feature. Short flows of ash or creation of pumice cones may be observed as well. [Source: Wikipedia]

All historic eruptions took place from the five-kilometer- wide volcanic island in the northern-central part of the lake.The island is formed by overlapping stratovolcanoes, cinder cones and tuff rings (maars). Historic eruptions have seen the constant change and growth of the island. Taal has had some of the country's largest and deadliest eruptions: At least 6 eruptions during the recorded history of Taal since 1572 claimed fatalities, mostly from powerful pyroclastic flows, as well as tsunamis produced in the crater lake. Eruption list: 1977, 1976, 1970, 1969, 1968, 1967, 1966, 1965, 1911, 1904, 1903, 1885(?), 1878, 1874, 1873, 1842, 1825, 1808, 1790, 1754, 1749, 1731, 1729, 1716, 1715, 1709, 1707, 1645, 1641, 1635, 1634, 1609, 1591, 1572 [Source: volcanodiscovery.com /*\]

Taal volcano is designated as one of the 16 Decade Volcanoes by International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI). Located about 50 kilometers south of the capital, Manila, Taal is surrounded by populated areas. Taal has erupted violently several times (the last eruption was in 1977). The current death toll caused by its activities stands at about 6,000.

The first mention of Taal Volcano was made on the occasion of the establishment of the town of Taal by the Augustinians in 1572. Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin, relating the foundation of the town tells us, that in Lake Bombon, on whose southern shore the town was located, "there is a volcano of fire which is wont to spit forth many and very large rocks, which are glowing and destroy the crops of the natives."

Taal caused one of the worst volcano disasters in history: its eruption in 1911 killed 1334 people and caused ash fall as far as Manila city. Due to its devastating potential, Taal was declared one of the "Decade Volcanoes" in the Decade Volcanoes program of the 1990s in order to incentive study and monitoring of the volcano. Taal is today one of the most closely monitored volcanoes in the region. An increase in seismic activity under Taal was recorded in November 2006, followed by an increase in hot water springs in the crater in April 2007. /*\

In April 2011, some scientists believed there is a strong probability that the Taal Volcano, might erupt anytime. According to the Taal Volcano Bulletin issued on April 14, 2011: The seismic network around Taal Volcano (14.0000̊N, 120.9833̊E) recorded twelve (12) volcanic earthquakes during the past 24 hours. Two of these earthquakes were felt. The first event occurred at 4:32 A.M and was felt at Intensity II by residents in Barangay Calauit at the southeastern part of Taal Volcano Island with an audible rumbling sound. The second event occurred a few minutes later at 4:49 A.M., but felt only at Intensity I with faint rumbling sound in the same area. Water temperature at the Main Crater Lake slightly increased from 30.0̊C to 30.5̊C. Gas measurements conducted at Taal Main Crater Lake last January, February and March 2011 yielded carbon dioxide (CO2) emission values of 2,250 tonnes per day (t/d), 1,875 t/d and 4,670 t/d respectively. This large increase in C02 concentration indicates gas release from the magma at depth. Result of the ground deformation survey (precise leveling) conducted around the Volcano Island last 05-11 April 2011 showed that volcano edifice is slightly inflated as compared with the 02-09 February 2011 survey.

Alert Level 2 is hoisted over Taal Volcano with the interpretation that magma has been intruding towards the surface, as manifested by CO2 being released in the Main Crater Lake and increase in seismic activity. Hence, PHIVOLCS advises the public that the Main Crater, Daang Kastila Trail and Mt. Tabaro (1965 -1977 Eruption Site) are strictly off-limits because sudden hazardous steam-driven explosions may occur and high concentrations of toxic gases may accumulate. Breathing air with high concentration of gases can be lethal to human, animals and even cause damage to vegetation. In addition, it is reminded that entire Volcano Island is a Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ), and permanent settlement in the island is strictly not recommended. DOST-PHIVOLCS is closely monitoring Taal Volcano’s activity and any new significant development will be immediately relayed to all concerned.

Taal Eruptions in the Early 1700s

1707: “The cone called Binintiag Malaqui burst forth with a tremendous display of thunder and lightning; but aside from fear and trembling, no damage was done in the town situated on the shores of Lake Bonbon.” [Source: Not known, History of Taal's activity to 1911 as described by Fr. Saderra Maso, Homepage of Taal Volcano, iml.rwth-aachen.de/Petrographie/taal /~\]

1716: Friar Manuel de Acre wrote: “On September 24, 1716, at about 6 o'clock in the evening, a great number of detonations were heard in the air, and shortly after it became plain that the volcano in Lake Bombon had burst on its southeastern side, which faces Lipa, so that the whole point called Calauit appeared to be on fire. Later on the eruption seemed to spread into the lake, in the direction of Mount Macolod, which rises opposite the volcano on the southeastern shore of the lake. Great masses of smoke, water, and ashes rushed out of the lake, high up into the air, looking like towers. Simulaneously there was a great commotion in the earth which stirred up the water in the lake, forming immense waves which lashed the shores as though a violent typhoon were raging. Their fury was such that in front of the convento of Taal, and in other places of the beach, a strip of more than 10 brazas (16.7 meters) in width was engulfed by the water, and the church was endangered. [Source: narrative of Fr. Manuel de Acre, who copied them from the "Actas de Taal" ]

“On the following days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, things continued the same way, but by Sunday all the combustible material appears to have been consumed. This eruption killed all the fishes, large and small, the waves casting them ashore in a state as if they had been cooked, since the water had been heated to a degree that it appeared to have been taken from a boiling caldron. There was an all-pervading, pestilential stench of sulfur which greatly molested the inhabitants of the towns surrounding the lake...Sunday morning the sun broke through, but later torrential rains fell with thunder and lightning, some of the latter striking and the whole causing greatest terror. Finally, however, the weather cleared and of the whole tragedy there remained no other signs than the stench of sulfur and of the great quantity of dead fish cast upon the beach by the waves. [Ibid]

1731: Fiar Torrubia wrote: “There appeared in the air, surrounded by sulphurous flames ... enormous boulders, which built up an island from the bottom of the deep lake, said island having a diameter of one mile. The fire burst forth again, this time from the lake, at a short distance from the point (of Volcano Island) which looks toward east. Vast and towering obelisks of earth and sand arose out of the water, which within a few days formed a new islet of about one quarter of a league (1.8 kilometers, or about one mile) in circumference. No damage was, however, done to the neighbouring towns. [Source:Fr Torrubia ("Aparato" folio 110), who at the time of this eruption was at Los Baños]

“With terror we heard during one of the nights a continuous fire of heavy artillery, as if two mighty armies were engaged in abttle. This was followed by a terrible earthquake of long duration, after which we heard only isolated detonations, not with the former frequency, but very much sharper. Their persistency caused us to pass the following day in considerable enxiety and fear. At nightfall we were informed that out of the depths of Lake Bonbon, which is at a distance of eight leagues (34 kilometers, or 21 miles) there rose such a frightful and all-devouring conflagration that the whole region was panic-stricken. Curiosity led me to go and examine the terrible phenomenon which lasted during many days, accompanied by subterranean rumblings which caused the entire region to tremble. The moment when a report was heard, there appeared in the air, surrounded by sulphurous flames and pestilential smake, enormous boulders, which built up an island from the bottom of the deep lake, said island having a diameter of one mile, more or less. After the conflagration had become extinct, I myself saw this island from a place near Tanauan. It is composed entirely of rocks with an admixture of other materials ejected during the eruption, without any earth whatever. The rocks, subject to the action of fire ever since their formation, clearly reveal the hand which placed them there. This all-consuming fire made the water boil, cooked the fishes, and left the impress of its fierceness on the very rocks.” [Ibid]

Taal Eruptions in 1749

One of the most violent outbursts of Taal on record occurred on August 11, 1749: Friar Buencuchillo, an eye-witness and the parish-priest of Sala at the time, wrote: “During the night of that day the top of the mountain burst with tremendous force from the same crater which since ancient times used to emit fire and rocks. The course of the events was this: At about 11 o`clock of the night I had noticed a rather extensive glare over the top of the island; but entirely unaware of what it might portent, I paid no special attention to it and retired to rest. Around 3 o`clock in the morning of the 12th, I heard something like heavy artillery fire and began to count the reports, taking it for granted that they came from the ship which was expected to arrive from New Spain (Mexico) and which, according to ancient custom, on entering Balayan Bay saluted Our Lady of Cayaysay. I thought it strange, however, when I found that the number of detonations already exceeded one hundred and still they did not cease. This caused me to rise with some anxienty as to what could be the matter; but my doubts were quickly dispelled, as at this moment there appeared four excited natives who shouted: "Father, let us leave this place! The volcano has burst out and all this noise and racket comes from it!" [Source: Friar Buencuchillo, an eye-witness and the parish-priest of Sala at the time, History of Taal's activity to 1911 as described by Fr. Saderra Maso, Homepage of Taal Volcano, iml.rwth-aachen.de/Petrographie/taal /\]

“From the water there rose enormous columns of sand and ashes, which ascended ... to marvelous heights ...By this time it began to dawn, and we saw the immense column of smake which rose from the summit of the island, while several smaller whiffs issued from other openings. I confess that the spectacle, far from freightening me, rather delighted my eyes , especially when i noticed that also from the water there rose enormous columns of sand and ashes, which ascended in the shape of pyramids to marvelous heights and then fell back into the lake like illuminated fountains. /\

“Some of the pyramids surged toward north, others toward east, the sight lasting until 9 o`clock of the morning. At the latter hour there was felt a furious earthquake which left nothing moveable in its place within the convento. This forced me to flee to higher ground, especially as i noticed that some of the horrid pyramids shooting forth from the water were coming towards the town and place where we were. When we reached that part of the lake`s shore which was known as "tierra destruida" (waste land?), they ruined that tract entirely, and with a second earthquake, not less fierce than the one shortly predeeding, it sank into the lake. To this very day, the branches of the trees buried beneath the water can be seen from the distance. /\

“During these terrible convulsions of the earth fissures opened in the ground amid horrifying roars, said fissures extensing from the northern and northeastern beach of the lake as far as the neighbourhood of the town of Calamba. Here as well as elsewhere, the whole shore of Lake Bonbon has been disturbed. The entire territory of Sala and part of that of Tanauan have been rendered practically uninhabitable - the water courses have been altered, former springs have ceased to flow and new ones made their appearance, the whole country is traveres by fissures, and extensive subsidences have occurred in may places. /\

“During my flight I saw a great many tall trees, such as coconut and betel-nut palms, either miserably fallen, or so deeply buried that their tops were within reach of my hands. I likewise saw several houses which formerly, in accordance with Philippine custom, had their floors raied several yards above the ground, but had sunk to such a dregree that the same ladder which once served to ascent into them, was now used to descent to them. The most remarkable thing about this is that the natives tranquilly continue occupying them, though they find themselves buried alive. /\

“It rained ashes in considerable quantity and that part of them that remained suspended in the air, formed a vast cloud which grew so dense as to cause real darkness during hours of broad daylight. Sala and its surroundings to the northeast of the lake, as well as a portion of the territorry of Tanauan, which is north of it, were so thoroughly ruined and, consequently, depopulated that within the same year, 1749, the former was united with the latter town.” /\

Fr. Murillo states in his "Geographica Historica, etc" that he was at the time at the Santuary of Antipolo which lies 21 kilometers (13 miles ) almost due east from Manila. During the eruption he felt three or four earthquakes so such violence that the roof tiles of the tower were thrown to a distance of more than 10 meters (33 feet). Of less intense shocks there were more than one hundred, and the earth trembled frequently during more than a year. There were likewise fierce thunderstorms during many days.

Taal Eruptions in 1754

The eruption in 1754 was the greatest recorded in the history of Taal Volcano. Friar Buencuchillo, an eye-witness and the parish-priest of Sala at the time, wrote: “On May 15, 1754, at about 9 or 10 o'clock in the night, the volcano quite unexpectedly commenced to roar and emit, sky-high, formidable flames intermixed with glowing rocks which, falling back upon the island and rolling down the slopes of the mountain, created the impression of a large river of fire. During the following days there appeared in the lake a large quantity of pumice stone which had been ejected by the volcano. Part of these ejecta had also reached the hamlet of Bayuyungan and completely destroyed it...... the falling ejecta made the entire island appear to be on fire. [Source: Friar Buencuchillo, an eye-witness and the parish-priest of Sala at the time, History of Taal's activity to 1911 as described by Fr. Saderra Maso, Homepage of Taal Volcano, iml.rwth-aachen.de/Petrographie/taal ***]

“The volcano continued thus until June 2, during the night of which the eruption reached such proportions that the falling ejecta made the entire island appear to be on fire, and it was even feared that the catastrophe might involve the shoresof the lake. From the said 2d of June until September 25, the volcano never ceased to eject fire and mud of such bad character that the best ink does not cause so black a stain. During the night of September 25, the fire emitted was quite extraordinary and accompanied by terrifying rumbings. The strangest thing was, that within the black column of smake issuing from the volcano ever sinceJune 2, there frequently formed thunderstorms, and it happened that the huge tempest cloud would scarely ever disappear during two months. ***

“At daybreak of September 26 we found ourselves forced to abandon our dwelling for fear lest the roofs come down upon us under the weigth of ashes and stones which had fallen upon them during that hapless night. In fact, some weaker buildings collapsed. The depth of the layer of ashes and stones exceeded two "cuartas" (45 centimeters), and the result was that there was neither tree nor other plant which it did not ruin or crush, giving to the whole region an aspect as if a devastating conflagration had swept over it. After this the volcano calmed down considerably, though not sufficiently to offer any prospect of tranquility. ***

“During the night of November 1, Taal resumed its former fury, ejecting fire, rocks, sand, and mud in greater quantities than ever before. On November 15, it vomited enormous boulders which rolling down the slopes of the island, fell into the lake and caused huge waves [note(added by Saderra Maso): The waves mentioned were most probably due to the earthquake rather than to the falling rocks]. The paroxysms were accompanied by swaying motions of the ground which caused all the houses of the town to totter. We had already abandoned our habitation and were living in a tower which appeared to offer greater security; but on this occasion we resolved that the entire population retire to the Sanctuary of Casaysay, only the "Administrator" and myself to remain on the spot. ***

“At 7 in the evening of November 28 occurred a new paroxism, during which the volcano vomited forth such masses of fire and ejecta that in my opinion, all the material ejected during so many months, if taken together, would not equal the quantity which issued at the time. The columns of fire and smoke ascended higher than ever before, increasing every moment in volume, and setting fire to the whole island, there being not the smallest portion of the latter which was not covered by the smoke and the glowing rocks and ashes. All this was accompanied by terrific lightning and thunder above, and violent shocks of earthquakes underneath. The cloud of ejecta, carried on by the wind, exented itself toward west and south with the result that we saw already some stones fall close to our shore. I, therefore, shouted to all those who were still in the town to take to flight and we all ran off in a hurry; otherwise we would have been engulfed on the spot; as the waves of the angry lake began already to flood the houses nearest to the beach. ***

“We left the town, fleeing this living picture of Sodom, with incessant fear lest the raging waters of the lake overtake us, which were at the moment invading the main part of the town, sweeping away everything they encountered. On the outskirts of the town, I came upon a woman who was so exhausted by her burden of two little children and a bundle of clothing that she could proceed no farther. Moved by pity, I took one of the taddlers from her and carried him, and the little indio who has been wailing while in the arms of his mother, stopped short when I took him into mine and never uttered a sound while I was carrying him a good piece of the way. ***

“Having reached a secure place on elevated ground at a distance of about half a league (2 kilometers) from the town, we halted in a hut to rest a little and take some food. From this spot the volcano could be contemplated with a little more serenity of mind. It still continued in full fury, ejecting immense masses of material. Now I also observed that the earth was in continuous, swaying motion, a fact which I had failed to notice during the excitement and fear of the flight. Shortly afterwards the volcano suddenly subsided almost suddenly; its top was clear and apparently calm. We, therefore, returned on the following day, the 29th, to the town with the intention of surveying the havoc wrought during the preceeding night. ***

“The 29th had dawned calm, but while we were still trying to persuade ourselves that the tragedy was overand the volcano had exhausted its bowls, at about 8 o'clock, we heard a crash and then I noticed that smoke was rising from the point of the island that looks towards east. The smoke spread very gradually as far as the crater of the volcano, while there were many whiffs issuing from points in the direction of another headland. I realized that the island had opend in these places and fearing that, if a crater should open below the water, an explosion might follow, much more formidable than the preceeding ones, I mounted a horse and retired permanently to the Sanctuary of Caysasay. ***

“Between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the said 29th, it began to rain mud and ashes at Caysasay [12 miles from the volcano] and this rain lasted three days. The most terrifying circumstance was that the whole sky was shrouded in such darkness that we could not have seen the hand placed before the face, had it not been for the sinister glare of incessant lightnings. Nor could we use aritifical light as this was extinguished by the wind and copius ashes which penetrated everywhere. All was horror those three days, which appeared rather like murky nights and we did not occupy ourselves with anything but see to it that the natives swept off the roofs the large quantities of ashes and stones which kept on accumulating upon them and threatened to bring them down upon us, burying us alive beneath their weight. But fearing that even these precautions might prove unavailing, we 3 Europeans - viz. Fr. Prior, the Alcalde, and myself - the only ones who were at the time in the Convento of Caysasay, took refuge on the landing of the stairs; as the safest place, and awaited there whatever God might dispose with regard to us. To all this was added incessant thunder and lightning, and it really looked as if the world was going to pieces and its axis had been displaced. ***

“During the night of the 30th we had not a moment of repose, as every moment we heard the loud crush of houses collapsing under of stones, mud, and ashes piled upon them, and feared that the turn of the convento and the church of Casasay would come in next. Shortly before daybreak of december 1 there was a tremendous crash as if the house were coming down on our heads: the roof of the apsis of the chruch had caved in! Not long afterward, the roof of ther kitchen gave away with a thud. Both were tile roofs. ***

“The first of December broke somewhat clear and our eyes contemplated everywhere ruins and destruction. The layer of ashes and mud was more than 5 spans [1.10 m] thick, and it was almost a miracle that the roof of the church and convento sustained so great a weight. We caused the bulk of the material to be removed, while new continued to fall on that day and the following, on which later the direction of the wind changed, carrying the ejecta toward Balayan. On the 3rd and 4th we had a formidable typhoon, and thereafter the volcano quieted down. ***

“Soon afterward I resolved to visit my town of Taal; nothing was left of it except the walls of the church and convento. All the rest, the government house, the walks of the rope factory, the warehouse, everything was burried beneath a layer of stones, mud, and ashes more than 10 spans [2.20 m] thick; only here and there could be seen an upright post, the only remnant of a comfortable dwelling. I went downb to the river and found it completely filled up, with a boat belonging to the alcalde and many of private persons burried in the mud. After incredible efforts I finally succeeded in unearthing in what had once been the church and sacristy, the chests which contained the sacred vestments and vessels. Nearly all of them were demoloished by the rocks and beams which had fallenupon them, and filled with foul-smelling mud that had ruined or disfigued their contents. With the aid of some natives of Bauang I likewise recovered some property from among the ruins of the convento. ***

“Twelve persons are known to have perished - some carried away by the waves of the lake, others crushed beneath their collapsing houses. Thus the beautiful town of Taal remains a deserted wilderness and reduced to the utmost misery, while once it was one of the richest and most flourishing places. In the villages to the west of the lake, which were the greater and better part, all the houses have either collapsed under the load of material which had been piled upon them or have diappeared completely, swept away by the waves which in these places were so violent that they dug three ditches or channels, too wide and deep to be forded, and thus rendered impassable the road which joins the town with Balayan. In other parts of the lake shore have likewise opened manycracks and occurred very extensive slides. The worst of all is, that, the mounth of the river Pansipit having been blocked, the lake is rising and invading the towns of Lipa and Tanauan, both being on the lowest level, and inundating their buildings. All the animals of whatever kind have perished, some by being burried, others by drowning, the rest by starving, as not a green blade remained anywhere. ***

“The same fate as Taal has befallen the towns of Lipa, Tanauan, and so much of Sala as still existed. These towns, together with Taal, lay around the lake, being situated within easy reach of it, and less than one league [4 kilometers] from the volcano. The bulk of the population left this neighbourhood and settled in more distant places. Thus out of 1200 taxpayers whom Taal contained formerly, hardly 150 remain in the poorest and least respectable villages, which suffered little from the rain of ashes.” ***

Eruption of Taal Volcano of 1911-Events Before the Eruption

Taal caused one of the world’s worst volcano disasters in 1991 when 1334 people were killed and ash fell as far away as Manila city. Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau in 1911, wrote: “At 20h 20m of January 27, 1911, the seismographs of Manila Observatory commenced to register frequent seismic disturbances which were of small amplitude in the beginning, but increased rapidly in frequency and intensity. The first earthquake, perceptible in Manila with intensity III (Rossi-Forel scale), occurred at 23h 6m 5s, when the number of imperceptible shocks of force I registered during the preceding three hours, had already exceeded 20. Before midnight 4 additional shocks of force II and III were felt, while 4 or 5 of intensity I were recorded by the instruments. This seismic commotion continued during the whole of the 28th, with the same frequency, but increasing intensity, so much so that of the 197 disturbances registered by the instruments during that day, 10 were felt in Manila with force IV, 21 with force III, 31 with force II, while the remaining 135 did not exceed force I. began to cause alarm in e b thea the teere city; but by the aid of the telegrams from the meteorological station at Batangas, where the seismic disturbances succeeded themselves with much greater rapidity and energy than in Manila. [Source: The eruption of Taal volcano, January 30, 1911, by Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau, quod.lib.umich.edu *=*]

Observatory was soon able to locate the epicenter in the region of Taal Volcano, and thus to a certain degree calm the excited minds with the almost absolute assurance that Manila was in no danger whatever, as the volcanic center was at a distance of 63 kilometers (39 miles). Though we were convinced that the earthquakes originated in the volcanic region mentioned, no definite notice was received that Taal had entered into a period of eruption, until the afternoon of that day, when various telegrams were given out which reported that ever since the early morning a huge column of black smoke was rising from it and that in the nearest towns sinister rumblings could be heard at intervals, which brought consternation to the inhabitants of Batangas Province, since some awful catastrophe was feared to be imminent. This increase in volcanic activity coincided with the first microseismic movements registered in Manila at 20h 20m of the 27th. Mr. J. D. Ward, who was on Pulo Volcan during the night, tells us th a, at about the time stated, he was awakened by the strong rumbling of the volcano. He went out to see what was going on and saw an immense column of smoke rising from the crater; at the same time he became aware of the fact that the earth was trembling strongly and almost continually. Later on, the noise ceased without, however, any appreciable diminution of the volcano's unusual activity or of the earthquakes. *=*

“Sunday, January 29, these noises were heard anew. The telegraphic reports published by the newspapers naturally occupied themselves more with the damages done by the earthquakes-which were exaggerated beyond reasonable limits-than with the state of the volcano. From correspondence which appeared subsequently in the daily press we learn that already during the night of Friday the volcano had been ejecting mud, ashes, and some rocks. January 29 the earthquakes increased in intensity, though their frequency decreased slightly. The Manila seismographs registered only 113 against 197 on the 28th; but the proportion of those of intensity III and IV which, as we shall see later on, corresponded to forces VI and VII in the vicinity of the volcano, reached 16 per cent, while on the preceding day it had been only 15 per cent of the total number of disturbances. In the morning of that day some explorers and excursionists still visited the volcano and found its top covered by recent mud and ashes. While there, they had the privilege of witnessing eruptions of mud and rocks which, however, attained only small altitudes; all around the "Green Lake" which in recent times has always been the most active spot, vapors issued from a multitude of openings. They had resolved to spend the night on the island; but scared by noticing that the earthquakes and explosions of the volcano kept on increasing, the latter being accompanied by crashes each succeeding more intense than its predecessor, they decided to withdraw and returned to the northeastern shore of Lake Bombon. Mr. Charles Martin, official photographer of the Philippine Government, would nevertheless have stayed; but he found that his plates had given out and went to get a new supply-a circumstance, to which he owes the boon of still being in the land of the living! *=*

Eruption of Taal Volcano of 1911

Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau in 1911, wrote: “It appears to be certain that the explosions began to assume a terrific violence at 1 o'clock in the morning of the 30th. Shortly after 2 a. m. the volcano burst forth with frightful energy. A terrible roar which seemed to be at the same time subterraneous and in the air and could be heard in all directions from the volcano up to distances exceeding 500 kilometers (310 miles), filled with fear even the people of Manila, though 63 kilometers (39 miles) from the crater. At the same time there was seen an immense, threatening, black cloud, crossed by brilliant flashes of lightning and illumined by local explosions resembling globular lightning, the whole accompanied by peals of thunder for the space of half an hour. This tempestuous cloud must have risen to an enormous height, since it was observed from distances of some 400 kilometers (250 miles), where it was mistaken for a distant thunderstorm. People living in towns at some distance from Taal, but having it in full view, noticed that there were two or three explosions in succession and that the electric discharges took place almost vertically within the column of smoke, striking upward from the mouth of the crater. In the Manila papers the question was discussed whether or not there really had been any flames visible. A well-instructed inhabitant of Manila affirmed that he distinctly saw a huge mass of dark-red flames, which in a moment was enveloped by the dense smoke, and then another of the same proportions; that their glare illuminated his house; and that the whole spectacle lasted scarcely 10 seconds. [Source: The eruption of Taal volcano, January 30, 1911, by Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau, quod.lib.umich.edu *=*]

“Mr. J. D. Ward, who was at the time on the northeastern shore of the lake, avers that two or three times he noticed a vivid glare or reflection of a deep red color coming from the interior of the crater; but he does not believe that there were any real flames. We have inquired of many people of the towns to the east of the volcano and of some who actually were on the shores of the lake during that night, but nobody could enlighten us on the subject; all, however, laid stress on the electric discharges which took place upward within the column. The widespread glare observed by Mr. Ward can be explained either by the ignition of gases, or by assuming that lava rose to the mouth of the eruptive channel, its glowing surface illuminating for a moment the masses of gases above the crater, until the water vapors underneath overcame the pressure and, violently escaping through the lava, blew part of it into dust, thus hurling into the air a portion of the molten material which had been about to overflow the outlet. It seems certain that neither during this, nor during any of the eruptions mentioned, was there a flow of lava, not even within the main crater itself. On the interior walls of the latter thedifferent layers can be counted of which the cone consists, and these are invariably composed of tuffs having various colors and more or less fine texture. Nowhere, however, is there to be discovered a solidified stream of lava, except in the very lowest strata. Of what happened in the villages which have been wiped out of existence by this eruption, we have at best vague information, which we may supplement by conjectures as to what must have occurred. *=*

“One of the survivors narrates that he and his son were sleeping in their shack when they were awakened by violent explosions accompanied by vivid flashes. The son went to the door and dropped dead; in the the same instant the father found himself covered by dust and scalding mud against which it was impossible to protect himself, as it was entering through every crevice of the house. He cowered down in a corner as best he could until the tempest was over, when he found himself still alive, yes, but with his whole body scalded and horribly burned, especially in the face and other parts not protected by the clothes. Another, who lived on the northeastern end of Volcano Island states that the mud poured into the house through the palm-leaf roof. He had the good idea of diving into the lake which he had close at hand and thus saved his life. This fact shows that in this place the fall of mud was of very short duration. The mud not only scalded on account of its high temperature, but produced true burns due, no doubt, to caustic substances which it contained. The physicians who attended the injured attribute to these latter the great depth of the wounds and the condition of the surrounding tissue, which was altered much more than is usual in cases of simple scalding by boiling water. The plants-even up to distances of 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the volcano-showed parts whose color and consistency indicated real carbonization. In general it may be said that the destruction of vegetation is likewise evidently due not so much to the scalding effects of the mud as to chemically active substances in its composition. The chief feature of the eruption seems to have been a terrible explosion which with incredible violence hurled high up into the air and scattered in all directions glowing rocks, earth, mud, ashes, and gases. As if shot from the mouth of a gigantic cannon, this death-dealing mixture mowed down or destroyed whatever it encountered in its path on the entire island and on the neighboring western shores of Lake Bombon. It cut down or uprooted trees and other plants, destroyed houses, and killed well-nigh every living being within a radius of 5 to 6 kilometers (3 miles) to the east of the crater, and up to more than 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the west thereof. Everything remained covered with a thick layer of volcanic products which, obliterating the smaller details of the ground, gives to the devastated region an aspect gloomy beyond description. A fair idea of the violence of this terrible blast is given by the trees, broken and stripped of their bark, which can be distinguished in the views reproduced at the end of this paper. *=*

“The explosion was accompanied by a terrific development of electricity with tremendous lightnings and thunders which continued rending the air for over half an hour. Of the 1,300 victims who perished in the 13 small barrios-some on Volcano Island itself, others on the western shore-many were killed in the act of fleeing; others were found buried underneath or among the debris of their huts which had been brought down upon them and torn to pieces, being partially covered with rocks and mud; some seem to have been killed by instantaneous asphyxiation, as they were found on their mats in the attitude of peaceful sleep. The presence of great quantities of noxious and inflammable gases which formed explosive mixtures with air, seems to be established by the following facts: From Manila and other distant places from which a view could be had of the eruption, there could be distinctly seen within the enormous column rising from the volcano sudden flashes whose light and form differed widely from those of the electric discharges. All the injured survivors, from the island as well as the western shore of the lake, maintain that the first thing which they heard were not thunderclaps, but detonations outside the house accompanied by brilliant flashes; then followed the rain of mud, etc. Moreover, it is stated that in the village of Guilot all the victims perished instantaneously in such a way, that neither their bodies or clothes, nor the furniture, not even the cotton in whose picking they had been occupied, showed any sign of scorching or discoloring. In a house of a village belonging to the municipality of Talisay, at a distance of over 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the volcano, the inhabitants covered themselves with mats to escape the mud; but when the worst of the eruption was already over, there occurred an explosion in the kitchen which hurled the sheets of iron roofing to a distance of more than 18 meters (20 yards). *=*

“This explosion can evidently be attributed only to the gases which had accumulated there. All the reports, both official and unofficial, agree on the point that the inhabitants of the village of Bugaan perished likewise through the effects of gases and heat. The quantity of ejecta which belched forth from the volcano in a moment and fell back upon the earth mostly in the form of mud, was so vast that on the western side of the lake it still formed a layer of 80 centimeters (31 inches) thickness as far as 10 kilometers from the crater. The disintegrated volcanic products preserved the form of a fluid mud not merely in the neighborhood of the volcano, but even up to distances exceeding 20 kilometers (12 miles), as we have had occasion to observe personally. *=*

“The mud must have been of rather thin consistency, because on falling upon leaves or other objects, it would spread. After drying in the sun, it remained as a compact mass of considerable strength wherever its thickness exceeded one centimeter (0.4 inch). We ourselves have taken up slabs of considerable dimensions, whose color resembled that of Portland cement. It would seem to the writer that this fact gives a clue to the explanation of how the beds of tuff were formed which are found in the vicinity of Manila and, in default of more solid stones, extensively used as building material. It shows that, in order to give them their present hardness and density, neither great pressure, nor very long periods of time were necessary, especially in this country of abundant rains. The partial vacuum produced at the moment of the explosion and the resulting diminution of atmospheric pressure set up convergent air currents toward the volcano, which were so pronounced that the wind acquired considerable force. Regarding this radial movement of the air and the force developed by it, we have the following facts, all of which have been observed at distances from the volcano exceeding 10 kilometers (6 miles): From a village of the municipality of Talisay it is reported that the force of the wind caused sheets of iron roofing to fly about. On the northeastern shore of the lake the wind was sufficiently strong to impede the movements of people who attempted to flee toward the northeast to gain higher and safer ground. *=*

“At Tanauan, some 19 kilometers (12 miles) toward east-northeast, the wind forced open some windows which had not been well secured. At a distance of 22 kilometers (14 miles) we have seen the cogon grass lying like wheat which had been beaten down by a storm. At Manila, 63 kilometers (39 miles) from Taal, where there was at the time an almost perfect atmospheric calm, a well-noticeable breeze (3 meters per second) sprang up and at the same time the wind vanes which had been steady on southeast, backed several degrees toward east. To the descent of these winds upon Lake Bombon are probably due, at least in part, the tremendous waves which formed on the latter and, as we shall see, considerably augmented the destruction and loss of life on all the shores of the lake.” *=*

Damage and Death from Eruption of Taal Volcano of 1911

Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau in 1911, wrote: “An idea of the condition in which this region was left by the eruption is given by the report of Col. William C. Rivers, Philippines Constabulary, who was dispatched to the scene of the disaster especially for the purpose of making provisions for the burial of the dead and the relief of the survivors. In this report, written February , it is estimated that the number of victims had then already reached 1,295. The worst stricken district comprises Volcano Island and west side of lake. All vegetation, including trees, destroyed. Country all covered with gray mud hardening under sun present-uniform ashen color. Mud flattened and covers all houses and objects." [Source: The eruption of Taal volcano, January 30, 1911, by Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau, quod.lib.umich.edu *=*]

Death, injuries and damage beginning Talisay, going west: Villages. Dead. Injured: Talisay and barrios: 14, 20; Maliquilong: 0, 20, most houses stood. San Gabriel: 8 5 Bayuyungan: 3, 37, one-third houses stood; Bugaan: 168, 5, No survivors found; village obliterated; Guilot: 100, No survivors found; village obliterated. Bosoboso: 100, Two survivors found who were absent in Taal, village obliterated; Bafiaga: 300 No survivors found, village obliterated; Bilibinang 200, - , four survivors who were absent, village obliterated; Manalao: -,48 Two survivors who were absent; village obliterated; Subig: 50, 38, one-third houses remaining. These are all the villages on west coast and they appear on maps under various other names.

Volcano Island: Three hundred lived there, about fifteen escaped; villages and animals obliterated. Balete, east side: Four drowned. People moved from Subig to south of lake; those of Bayuyungan some gone to Cavite, many remain. They have some palay, they are cleaning up and aiding burial corps to inter dead of nearby barrios. Where dead are listed above it means dead and missing, but believed dead from obliteration of villages. For example, Manalao reports forty-eight dead, burial corps interred thirty-eight. The two survivors named ten children who must have been under the mud. Bosoboso reports 100 dead, seventy actually buried, balance believed buried under ruins.

Total dead and missing estimated 1,295 unless others are found who were absent from houses during eruption. As stated, the foregoing was written on February 5. After returning to Manila on the completion of his special mission, Colonel Rivers presented a final report in which the total number of dead is given as 1,335, that of the injured as 199. This report contains the further statement that 543 nipa houses have been destroyed and 702 head of cattle either drowned or otherwise lost owing to the eruption.

The exact number of victims will probably never be known-first, because the waves have carried away many corpses and, no doubt, buried others beneath earth, trunks of trees, and other debris, which filled up many depressions in the ground; secondly, because some have surely met their doom while fleeing toward the jungle, where their bones remained more or less completely buried by the volcanic ashes. Moreover, the number of people who inhabited these regions is by no means known accurately, as they were in the habit of passing from one village to another according to their convenience in attending to their crops. Some of the poorest who squat on public land, occasionally change their place of residence every year, rendering it practically impossible to maintain correct records. The appalling number of victims is doubly painful if we compare it with the exceedingly small death list of the great eruption in 1754. It would seem that then nobody lived on Volcano Island. On the western shore of the lake there were, indeed, fields and pastures, but people lived there only temporarily while occupied in planting or harvesting. We remember distinctly that as late as sixteen years ago, when we visited the volcano for the first time, barely half a dozen families were to be found on Pulo Volcan. The topographical effects, as well on Volcano Island as on the shores of the lake, consist in large fissures and numerous, extensive slides in the strata of tuff and alluvium. It is also said that one of the small islands (which are remnants of an ancient crater) close to Pulo Volcan has sunk. Nevertheless, it seems that thus far all the happenings are rather the mechanical effects of wave action and of the continuous earthquakes, than of a general subsidence of the entire volcano

Analysis of the Eruption of Taal Volcano of 1911

Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau in 1911, wrote: “ Of the changes wrought within the crater itself and alluded to before, a good idea may be obtained by comparing the pictures taken before and after the eruption. this paper. In a photograph taken shortly before the eruption the interior crater walls have a mean height of 150 meters (492 feet) on the eastern side, while on the western they rise only to 120 to 125 meters (394 to 410 feet). Moreover, the real crater of this eruption was nearer to the eastern wall than to the western. Hence, an immense portion of what we may call the cone of discharge had to strike the eastern crater walls, while on the west side it could acquire its full development, depending only on the force of the eruption and the angle of issue from the opening. Finally, it is a fact that a very large portion of the ejecta consisted of material which had lain close to the surface, of the ancient cones, rocks, and other volcanic debris which had accumulated around the opening and formed the so-called "red cone" and the various elevations separating the different lakes-all of which were carried away by the explosion.” [Source: The eruption of Taal volcano, January 30, 1911, by Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., assistant director of the Philippines Weather Bureau, quod.lib.umich.edu *=*]

“This would seem to indicate that the seat of the latter was at no great depth, and it is quite conceivable that in such case the force might be deflected considerably toward west, especially if the opposite side is higher and, possibly, more solid. The direction of the dominant atmospheric currents at the time of the explosion. Regarding this factor we have no observations from the neighborhood of the volcano, Manila and Atimonan being the nearest stations provided with registering anemometers. To judge from the southeastern direction of the wind at Manila and the east-northeastern wind at Atimonan, it is almost certain that in the region of the volcano it came approximately from east or east-southeast; as it is but natural that the same conditions which induce at Manila a southeastern land breeze, cause one from an easterly direction in the provinces south thereof. It is likewise probable that the said land breeze was somewhat stronger there than in Manila, since it is a well-established fact that the land breezes from east and southeast which usually blow during January, February, etc., almost invariably acquire greater strength on the somewhat higher ground of Batangas Province, than in Manila.*=*

“In order, however, not to convey a false idea of the influence which the prevailing wind might have had in directing the destructive elements toward west and west-northwest, we must add, that the last days of the month during which the eruption occurred, were of the calmest type throughout southern Luzon, and that, besides, the calms always prevail precisely during the night. A third possible factor is undoubtedly the whirlwind which, as we have seen, may have formed. After receiving the first reports of the extent of the catastrophe, we harbored no doubt that this had been the principal factor at play. *=*

“Later, however, after we had learned that the direction of the terrible discharge was, on the main, evidently radial, all around the crater and throughout Volcano Island, we became convinced that, even if there was such whirlwind, its influence was a secondary factor in determining the extent of the area of destruction in a westerly direction. Only with this limitation we adduce it as one of the possible causes of the most extraordinary phenomenon. Another explanation, which we believe to be the simplest of all, lies in the assumption that there was a fiery cloud similar to those which were observed on the occasion of the eruptions of Mount Pelee in 1902 and 1903, and which caused the destruction of the town of St. Pierre. *=*

“According to the observations made on Mount Pelee by A. Lacroix, these fiery clouds were composed of great masses of water vapor, ashes, lapilli, and blocks of lava. "These heavy clouds," says the author named, "issue obliquely from the crater and have a creeping, downward movement. Seen at night, they appeared invariably incandescent when issuing from the crater and occasionally preserved their glow through a great part of their course. Lacroix gives some data from which he shows that the temperature of these clouds was much higher than 1250 C, but did not reach 2300 C. The formation of a fiery cloud of such description which was carried westward, would explain not only the extent of the disaster in this direction, but likewise the glow which some people noticed at the moment of the explosion. The second zone, or area of partial destruction, within which the fall of ashes, though less heavy, was still very considerable, comprises all the shores of the lake. Within it there were likewise some victims who were carried off by the tremendous waves which, according to the statements of some survivors, swept over places 3 meters above the ordinary level of the lake. *=*

“The loss of animals due to the same cause was very much greater and many of these perished subsequently of hunger as not a blade of grass was left. The damages done to agriculture within this second area are not very serious, as the eruption did not take place at the time when the fields were planted in rice. The fields on which the layer of ashes has not reached a thickness of 10 centimeters (4 inches) will be washed sufficiently during the rainy season to allow of their being planted again, and many of them will probably yield even more abundant crops than before. This second zone presents likewise a very notable irregularity; while the first, that of total destruction, is elongated toward west and west-northwest, the latter extends chiefly toward north and northeast. *=*

“The reason for this phenomenon must necessarily be sought in the southwest and south-southwest direction of the upper air currents into whose region the volcanic products undoubtedly penetrated, since according to several approximate calculations they ascended to a height of nearly 15 kilometers (9 miles). The intermediate and higher atmospheric currents, as observed at Manila, have during January and February the mean directions N 78~ E and S 9~ E, respectively. These values have been deduced from eight years of visual observations. One year of observations by means of photography (International Cloud Observations, 1896-1897) gave for the higher currents the following results: January, S 49~ W, and February, S 10~ E. These data show that during the said months higher currents with directions between southwest and south-southeast are neither rare nor abnormal; and such, no doubt, prevailed at the time of the eruption. Hence, it would appear that in the distribution of the products of this eruption there concurred in the first place various circumstances which directed a great part of the ejecta with all their death-dealing violence toward west-northwest, while the intermediate and higher atmospheric currents carried such material as had reached great heights, first toward northwest and north, and finally toward northeast. The harm done to vegetation beyond the second zone, where only a light covering of ashes fell, is small and of a transient nature. The cattle, however, suffered severely, as the pastures had been ruined for the moment. *=*

“As the violent eruption was of very short duration, the ashes did not remain suspended in the air for any great length of time. Only on the 30th was there a fall of very fine ashes in Manila and in southern Luzon, the atmosphere being sufficiently turbid to make the sun appear veiled. At sunset the sky assumed a dark-red color which attracted the attention of many people who did not know what had happened in the south on that day, as they had been traveling in the northern provinces. One of these persons was the writer of these notes who was returning from Baguio. Nearing Manila at the time of sunset, he called the attention of his fellow-travelers on the train to the unusual and striking coloring of the sky. On the following days scarcely anything extraordinary could be noticed in southern Luzon, while in the north twilight phenomena were even more pronounced than on the 30th, since the volcanic dust had slowly spread. The same has presumably happened in the Visayan Islands. *=*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

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