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A volcano near the Philippine capital of Manila has spewed a massive cloud of ash into the sky, forcing the precautionary evacuation of thousands of residents, authorities said.

The Manila Airport authority has cancelled all flight in and out of Philippine for now.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology on Sunday raised the alert level at the rumbling Taal volcano, 65km (40 miles) south of Manila, to “level 3”, indicating “magmatic unrest” that could lead to a “hazardous eruption in weeks”.

The highest alert is level 5, hoisted when magmatic eruption is under way.

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The institute said it was strongly recommending that people evacuate the area around the volcano, which is on an island in the middle of Taal lake, and two nearby “high-risk” municipalities in Batangas province as it warned of “possible hazards of pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami”.

“We have to be on alert because we can see an increase in the phreatic explosions,” Renato Solidum, head of the institute, said.

The country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told reporters that an evacuation of the area has begun, led by local government officials.

About 8,000 residents were at risk and needed to be immediately evacuated, according to the council, citing the institute’s data and recommendations.

The local disaster office said it had evacuated more than 2,000 residents living on the volcanic island, which lies inside a bigger lake formed by previous volcanic activity.

The volcano spewed ash that generated a 1km (0.6 mile) plume that later triggered ashfall in nearby communities, the institute said.

“We were having lunch when we heard rumbling. We saw the volcano erupting. It rained and some small pebbles fell to the ground,” Jon Patrick Yen, a restaurant customer in Tagaytay, a nearby city, told Reuters news agency.

“I did not expect to see such spectacle. We just went by to eat,” Yen added.

Taal Volcano, the second most active volcano in the Philippines, is a popular destination that attracts many tourists for its picturesque crater lake. Taal also has the distinction of being the only active volcano in the world within a lake on an island. It last erupted in 1977.

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