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Thousands defy Philippine volcano warnings

MANILA, April 10, 2011 (AFP) – Thousands of people living near a volcano on an island close to the Philippine capital defied official warnings to evacuate on Sunday as fears of an eruption grew.

Only 77 people living near the crater of Taal Volcano left the island, a popular visitor spot 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Manila, over the weekend, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

The island is home to 7,000 farmers, fishermen and tourist guides, according to the country’s volcanology institute.

The government on Friday warned magma was pushing toward the surface amid a dramatic rise in gas emissions, a swelling of the ground and higher temperature on the surrounding Taal lake, which it said could eventually lead to an eruption.

Visits to the 2,500-hectare (6,178-acre) crater island, a tourist major draw, were banned and local officials put up posters on surrounding communities urging them to leave.

“Phivolcs (the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) advises the public that the main crater and (nearby trails) are strictly off-limits because of sudden hazardous steam-driven explosions may occur,” the council said.

The council said the entire volcano island was a “permanent danger zone” and should not be settled.

Taal is one of the most unstable of the country’s 22 known active volcanoes with 33 recorded eruptions, the last one in 1977.

The lake surrounding the crater prevented deaths in 1977 and during other eruptions, as the body of water protected outlying areas from the lava.

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