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Natural disasters

Volcanic eruption disrupts Philippine flights and businesses

Stock market suspends trading, while banks close branches

A family walks along a road covered with ash from Taal volcano in Tagaytay, Cavite province, southern Philippines on Jan. 13. Red-hot lava gushed out of a volcano near the Philippine capital on Monday, as thousands of people fled the area through heavy ash.    © AP

MANILA -- Philippine businesses grappled with the eruption of a volcano near the country's capital on Monday, forcing the temporary closure of factories, banks and the stock market as well as the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The country is bracing for a possible "hazardous explosive eruption" after Taal volcano, roughly 100 km south of Manila, released lava early on Monday. A day earlier, the volcano spewed large amounts of ash that blanketed nearby areas, including parts of Metropolitan Manila.

A majority of the companies located at the Laguna Technopark, a nearby sprawling manufacturing hub, have suspended operations, according to the property's management.

"We were advised to stay home because the ash fall could be hazardous to our health," Fatima Patron, who makes transistors at one of the locaters there, told the Nikkei Asian Review. "Our company will advise us when to come back."

The government said that as of 12 p.m. on Monday nearly 25,000 people had taken temporary shelter in 75 evacuation centers amid continuing volatility by Taal, one of the Philippines' most active volcanoes. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology kept the level at Alert 4 -- a notch below the highest level -- early on Monday, which means that "hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days."

A man wanders among plants and equipment covered in ash in Tagaytay. President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed authorities to move residents out of the danger zone.   © AP

President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday instructed authorities to move residents out of the danger zone, his spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, said.

The Philippine Stock Exchange said it suspended trading to ensure the safety of its employees and traders, while the Bankers Association of the Philippines also suspended spot trading. Meanwhile, major banks closed dozens of branches in areas heavily affected by the volcanic ash.

Civil aviation authorities canceled over 200 flights at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport early on Monday after ash covered the runway, but it announced partial resumption of operations in the afternoon. More than 500 flights have been canceled or delayed since Sunday, according to airport General Manager Ed Monreal.

Residents living near the errupting Taal Volcano evacuate in Lemery, Batangas City, Philippines on Jan. 13, 2020.   © Reuters

Still, Philippine Airlines said it was canceling domestic flights and delaying some international flights. Budget airline Cebu Pacific said it would conduct maintenance checks on all aircraft before resuming flights.

As ashes reached nearby areas, small retailers cashed in on surging demand for face masks, with some selling the gear at 200 pesos (roughly $4) apiece from the usual 25 pesos, ABS-CBN News reported, prompting local government officials to appeal to sellers not to take advantage of the situation.

Mercury Drug, the country's largest drugstore chain, said it had run out of face masks and was coordinating with suppliers to replenish its stock. The company said it was not hoarding supplies and will not increase prices.

Additional reporting by Ella Hermonio.

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