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The eruption of Taal volcano, January 30, 1911 online

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JANUARY 30, 1911









JANUARY 30, 1911










I .



English. Spanish.

I. Introduction 5 27

II. Eruptions within historical times 6 28

III. The eruption of January 30, 1911 12 33

1. Preliminary phenomena 12 33

2. The great eruption, January 30, 1911 , 13 34

3. Atmospheric waves 16 36

4. Area of destruction 17 38

5. Seismic movements during and after the principal eruption 21 41

6. Intensity and effects of the earthquakes in the vicinity of the volcano 23 43

7. List of earthquakes registered by the seismographs of Manila Observatory,

January 27 to February 25, 1911 24 44

IV. Conclusion . 25 44


PLATE I. Sketch-map of the Taal Volcano region.
II. Barograms, January 30, 1911.

III. Portion of the record made by the Vicentini seismograph.

IV. Portion of the record made by the horizontal pendulums.
V. FIG. 1. Crater of Taal Volcano before the eruption.

2. Crater of Taal Volcano after the eruption.
VI. FIG. 1. Eruption during the afternoon of January 30, 1911, Showing cloud sweeping down the

volcano slopes.

2. Mud and stones in eruption, January 30, 1911.
VII. FIG. 1. A tree 15 centimeters in diameter broken by the force of the eruption and shredded

like a wrisk broom by the mud driven by the force of the eruption.
2. General view of the barrio of Pirapiraso, volcano island, after the eruption.


Assistant Director of the Weather Bureau.


Taal Volcano, Luzon Island, P. I., is situated in 120 59' longitude E, and 14 2'
latitude N, about 63 kilometers (39 miles) south of Manila, and 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).

In giving an account of the most recent eruption of Taal, we do not believe it to be
necessary that we describe the volcano : in part, because we have done this in a succinct
manner elsewhere; 1 but chiefly, because there are extant in print other, very complete
studies either of Taal, or of the entire volcanic region of southern Luzon ; the former by
Sr. J. Centeno, a Spanish mining engineer, in 1885, 2 the latter very recently by Mr. G. J.
Adams, of the mining division, Bureau of Science. 3 Besides, the map (Plate!) gives a
sufficiently clear idea of the volcano's situation and the physiographic conditions of its

On the other hand, it has been thought desirable to add to our narrative some data
concerning the principal former outbursts which have occurred since the arrival of the
Spaniards in these Islands. In some of the old descriptions, mentioned and even excerpted
by the authors just named, but, as far as we know, never published in their entirety, we
find passages which serve admirably to give us a correct idea of the intensity, character,
and extent of the volcano's activity during the last three hundred years, and these are
chiefly the paragraphs which we have selected for insertion in this report. They seem
to warrant the following conclusions:

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 con-
fined 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.

4. Finally, Taal Volcano is to be considered as still in the period of full activity.

In describing the most recent outburst, we limit ourselves to the phenomena which
fall within the province of the Observatory; that is, to the seismic and meteorological

1 "Volcanoes and Seismic Centers in the Philippine Archipelago, by Rev. Miguel Saderra Maso, S. J.
Census of the Philippine Islands, Bulletin 3, Washington, 1904," pp. 53 to 63.

2 "Estudio Geologico del Volcan de Taal. Jose Centeno. Madrid, Tello (1885)," pp. 1 to 53.

* "Geological Reconnaissance of Southwestern Luzon, by George J. Adams." The Philippine Journal
of Science, Sec. A, Vol. V, pp. 57 to 112.

happenings. All the others will be touched upon merely incidentally in as far as it is
necessary to complete the narrative. The miaeralogical study of the solid volcanic ejecta,
the analysis of the liquids and gases, and the ascertaining of permanent changes which
may have taken place in the volcano, as well as of the geological signification and impor-
tance of the fissures, displacements, etc., in its vicinity, belong to the Bureau of Science
and will, no doubt, be undertaken by it if they are deemed to be of sufficient importance
for furthering the science of volcanology.

In order to avoid forming an exaggerated idea of the damages done by the volcano
in former times, two things must be borne in mind: First, we must not forget that 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).
Their approximate locations are shown on the map of this region (Plate I). On the
other hand, although the historical documents which we excerpt refer only to the place and
district where they were written, we know from other sources that the destruction caused
by the outbursts of 1716 and 1754 involved all the shores of Lake Bombon. Conse-
quently, from what is reported as having happened in one place we may infer what oc-
curred in the rest. 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. May be, that in former times houses of wood with nipa roofs
were met with more frequently than at present. They had a stonewall which inclosed
the ground floor up to the height of the first and only story of which houses in the Phil-
ippines usually consist.


1572. The first mention of Taal Volcano which we find in Philippine history, is made
on the occasion of the establishment of the town of Taal by the Augustinians in 1572.
Fr. Caspar 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." It would seem that at the time when the Augustinians established
themselves at Taal, the volcano displayed unusual activity, or that an eruption had
preceded at a recent date, because the missionaries found the people extremely timid
and scared to such degree, that Fr. Alburquerque, the first rector in the new town, thought
it necessary to make an extraordinary effort to tranquilize the natives and "accustom
them to place their trust in the only God, whose providence governs all things." With
this intention he employed a kind of exorcism by celebrating mass on the very island of
the volcano. These circumstances probably led the Augustinian, Fr. Rada, to record that
Taal was in eruption in 1572.

1591. In 1591, Fr. B. de Alcantara, O. S. A., repeated the ceremony performed by
Fr. Alburquerque for the reason that the volcano had begun to belch forth extraordinary
masses of smoke.

1605-1611. During this period we find as rector of Taal Fr, Tomas de Abreu who,
not content with saying mass on Pulo Volcan, had a huge cross of anubing (a wood
which admirably resists the inclemencies of the climate) erected on the brink of the

Plate I.


Mt. Sungay, .2 4^ 5^,^ ^ ;^fe

" ',- y

Maliquilang ^Balas

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50% IsY Old Tanauan 20 IZ

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-.-j,. ._,- . __. Mala
BpsooosoW , 8

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S an Nicolas\_^ 8


an Jose

1 Bminiiang.

2 Baiantue

3 Pinipihan.

4 Tibag.

5 Pirapiraso

6 Bignay.

7 Mapulang Bato.

lit Towns obliterated
fr Towns damage d



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principal crater. We believe that this action was caused by sinister signs of unusual
activity on the part of the volcano, since several chroniclers tell us that there were
heard frequent rumblings which terrified the inhabitants of the neighboring villages.

1634, 1645. The naturalist Semper states that in several chronicles are found vague
statements concerning two eruptions of the volcano which took place during these years.

In similarly doubtful and vague notices consists the whole history of Taal Volcano
from the arrival of Legaspi on the Island of Luzon until the beginning of the eighteenth
century. This makes it probable that, during the long period of one hundred and thirty-
five years which intervened between the discovery of the volcano in 1572 and the first
well-established eruption in 1707, the volcano showed only solfataric activity, or at most
very unimportant outbreaks. Something similar we know to have been the case dur-
ing the one hundred and three years from 1808 to 1911.


The cone called Binintiang Malaqui burst forth with a tremendous display of thunder and light-
ning; but aside from fear and trembling, no damage was done in the towns situated on the shores
of Lake Bombon.


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. Simultaneously 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. On the following days, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,
things continued in 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 sulphur
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 the greatest terror. Finally, however, the weather
cleared, and of the whole tragedy there remained no other signs than the stench of sulphur and of
the great quantity of dead fish cast upon the beach by the waves.

The foregoing paragraphs are taken from the narrative of Fr. Manuel de Arce,
who copied them from the "Actas de Taal."

1729. In 1729 took place a new outburst of the volcano which is attested by a report
which as late as 1849 existed in the parochial archives of Tanauan.


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 neighboring towns.

Fr. Torrubia, 1 who at the time of this eruption was at Los Baiios, gives us the fol-
lowing details concerning the event :

With terror we heard during one of the nights a continuous fire of heavy artillery, as if two
mighty armies were engaged in battle. 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

1 "Aparato," folio 110.


we were informed that out of the depths of Lake Bombon, 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, ac-
companied 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 smoke,
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.

1749. On August 11, 1749, began one of the most violent outbursts of Taal on record.
It has been described by Fr. Buencuchillo, O. S. A., an eye-witness, since he was at the
time parish-priest of Sala.

During the night of that day the top of the mountain burst out with tremendous force from the
same crater which since ancient times used to emit fire and rocks. The course of 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 this 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 an ancient custom, on entering Balayan Bay saluted Our Lady
of Caysasay. 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 anxiety 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!"

By this time it began to dawn, and we saw the immense column of smoke which rose from the
summit of the island, while several smaller whiffs issued from other openings. I confess that the
spectacle, far from frightening me, rather delighted my eyes, especially when I noticed that also from
the water there arose 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 toward the town and place where we
were. When they 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 preceding, 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 extending from the northern and northeastern beach of the lake as far as the neighborhood
of the town of Calamba. Here as well as elsewhere, the whole shore of Lake Bombon 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 traversed by fissures, and extensive subsidences have
occurred in many 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 raised several
yards above ground, but had sunk to such a degree that the same ladder which once served to ascend
into them, was now used to descend 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 which remained suspended in the air,
formed a vast cloud which grew so dense as to cause real darkness during the hours of broad daylight.

Sala and its surroundings to the northeast of the lake, as well as a portion of the
territory 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.

( J

Fr. Murillo states in his "Geografia Historica, etc.," that he was at the time at the
Sanctuary of Antipole which lies 21 kilometers (13 miles) almost due east from Manila.
During the eruption he felt three or four earthquakes of 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.

1754. Of the eruption in 1754, the greatest recorded in the history of Taal Volcano,
we have likewise a description from the pen of worthy Fr. Buencuchillo, at the time
stationed at Taal, of which narrative the following is an abridgement :

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 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 shores of 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 rumblings. The strangest thing was, that within the black column of smoke issuing from the
volcano ever since June 2, there frequently formed thunderstorms, and it happened that the huge tempest
cloud would scarcely 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 weight 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 or 18 inches], 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 bowlders which rolling
down the slopes of the island, fell into the lake and caused huge waves. 1 These paroxysms were ac-
companied 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 Caysasay, only
the "Administrador" 2 and myself to remain on the spot.

At 7 in the evening of November 28 occurred a new paroxysm, 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, extended itself
toward west and south with the result that we saw already some stones fall close to our shore. I, there-
fore, shouted to all those who were still in the town to take to flight and we all ran off in a hurry; other-
wise 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 from 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, sweep-
ing away everything which 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 toddlers from her and carried him, and the little indio who
had 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.

1 The waves mentioned were most probably due to the earthquake rather than to the falling rocks.

2 A public official performing the duties of treasurer, revenue officer, etc.


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

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