Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated in the Philippines after a volcano south of the capital started to spew ash up to nine miles (15km) into the air.

Flights to and from Manila International Airport have been cancelled amid warnings of a possible explosive eruption and volcanic tsunami.

Around 6,000 at-risk residents have been ordered to leave the island the Taal Volcano is on.

Tens of thousands more from nearby coastal towns have also been evacuated, officials said.

About 300,000 people were targeted to be moved to safety in nearby Batangas overnight and in the next few days.

The Taal volcano lies 27 miles south of Manila. Credit: PA

The volcanology institute reminded the public that the small island where the volcano lies is a permanent danger zone, although fishing villages have existed there for years.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, a nine-mile high plume of volcanic ash has triggered ashfall in communities living nearby.

Renelyn Bautista, 38, was among thousands of residents who fled from Batangas province’s Laurel town. She said she hitched a ride to safety from her home with her two children, including a four-month-old baby:

“We hurriedly evacuated when the air turned muddy because of the ashfall and it started to smell like gunpowder."

Timelapse footage from nearby Cuenca, in Batangas province shows volcanic lightning streaking up the massive ash plume.

  • Warning this video contains flashing images:

Heavy ashfall, including steam and pebbles, has also reached further afield - residents in the nearby province of Cavite are being warned to stay indoors and wear masks and goggles for safety.

Fallen ash covered the runways at Manila’s international airport on Sunday night.

Aviation officials also ordered the closure of Clark International Airport north of Manila after ash fell in the area.

Residents from surrounding areas were evacuated in an operation led by government officials. Credit: AP

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert level to level four on Sunday, just one below the highest possible alert level.

Authorities are warning level 4 indicates “a hazardous eruption may happen within hours or days”.

The volcanology institute asked nearby coastal communities “to take precautionary measures and be vigilant of possible lake water disturbances related to the ongoing unrest”.

Authorities recorded a swarm of earthquakes, some of them felt with rumbling sounds, and a slight inflation of portions of the 1,020ft volcano ahead of Sunday’s steam-driven explosion, officials said.

  • Warning this video contains flashing images:

One of the world's smallest volcanoes, Taal is among two dozen active volcanoes in the Philippines, which lies along the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a seismically active region that is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

About 20 typhoons and other major storms each year also lash the Philippines, which lies between the Pacific and the South China Sea, making it one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.