Taal Volcano eruption: Philippine nationals in Hong Kong worry about relatives’ safety as flights between city and Manila cancelled

Albert Han

A volcanic eruption in the Philippines has caused the cancellation of flights between Hong Kong and Manila and left Filipino residents in the city worried about their relatives’ safety.

The eruption at Taal Volcano, 65km south of the capital, has forced thousands to be evacuated from the capital and the closure of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport since Sunday evening.

At least 20 flights, including those run by Cathay Pacific Airways, Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines, had been diverted or cancelled between Hong Kong and Manila on Monday morning, according to website Flightaware. In total more than 500 flights were cancelled by 3pm.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority did not confirm the number of flights cancelled.

The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong said it was closely monitoring the situation and helping travellers stranded at Hong Kong airport.

“One of our officers is going to the airport to check the status of Filipino nationals,” said Joanne Decson, an assistance-to-nationals officer at the consulate.

“We are also coordinating with airlines on how they will be assisting Filipino nationals with food or temporary accommodation.”

More than 180,000 Filipino nationals live in the city, according to the Hong Kong government, the city’s second-largest ethnic minority group after Indonesians. Many work as domestic helpers.

Manila airport suspends flights as volcano rumbles in Philippines

Jane Angela Valenzuela Cureg, 25, a helper who was expected to fly to Hong Kong on Tuesday evening for work, said there were chaotic scenes at Manila Airport as passengers tried to rebook their trips.

“I booked my flight for tomorrow night already, but I’m very worried now because of the ash here in Manila,” she said.

The erupting Taal Volcano is seen from Tagaytay, Philippines. Photo: Eloisa Lopez

Taal Volcano has continued spewing lava and ashfall, triggering 75 earthquakes by Monday morning, according to the country’s Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Situated on an island in a lake, the volcano is the second most active in the Philippines.

Shiela Tebia Bonifacio, chairwoman of Gabriela Hong Kong, an alliance of Filipino women, said thousands of Philippine nationals in Hong Kong could have family affected by the eruption.

Tebia said her organisation was planning a crowdfunding campaign online to send donations.

Dolores Balladares Palaez, 50, a Philippine domestic helper who has lived in Hong Kong for 25 years, said she was planning to buy masks in Hong Kong and send them to her family because of shortages.

“I am very worried about my folks over there,” she said of her four-member family which includes her mother, 86, and her seven-year-old son, who live in Laguna, about a 90-minute drive south of Manila.

“I told them to stay home and I will buy masks for them,” Palaez said, adding that her family was affected by a bad smell in the air and ash on the streets.

“We are angry with the Philippines government, which did not warn people in advance about the eruption.”

She was unsure how she would be able to send the masks back, with the cancelled flights and Manila airport temporarily closed.

“Plus masks are more expensive in Hong Kong because of the [Wuhan] pneumonia outbreak,” she said.

Additional reporting by Denise Tsang

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