12,000 flee as lava oozes from Mayon


CAMALIG, Albay: Thousands fled from their homes as lava oozed out of a rumbling Mayon Volcano on Monday in what volcanologists described as a “quiet eruption,” warning it could lead to a hazardous explosion within days.

Lava was slowly flowing out of the Mayon volcano’s crater along with a spectacular 1,000-meter ash plume rising into the sky, the nation’s volcanology institute said.

GLOWING IN THE DARK: Lava glows on top of the cloud-covered Mayon Volcano, as seen from Legazpi City, Albay, during a ‘quiet eruption’ early on January 15. The government has raised the alert level for the country’s most active volcano twice in 24 hours, meaning that a hazardous eruption is possible within days. AFP PHOTO

More than 12,000 people have been ordered to leave a seven-kilometer danger zone around the crater, as cials warned them of potentially destructive mudflows and toxic clouds.

“Technically, the volcano is erupting but the eruption is fairly quiet. It may escalate into a hazardous eruption,” Paul Alanis, science research specialist at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), told Agence France-Presse.

A hazardous or explosive eruption means a lava fountain or a spray of hot rocks and gases that could move as fast as 60 kilometers per hour, Alanis added.

Local disaster officials also warned of volcanic mudflows known as lahar.

“Because of continuous rains in past weeks, debris deposited (on) the slopes of Mayon could lead to lahar flows.

If rain does not stop it could be hazardous,” Claudio Yucot, head of the region’s office of civil defense, said.

Mayon, a near-perfect cone that draws thousands of tourists, even during minor eruptions, rises 2,460 meters (8,070 feet) above a largely agricultural region some 330 kilometers southwest of Manila.

It is the considered the nation’s most active volcano.

Steam-driven eruptions and rockfalls began over the weekend, and the crater began glowing on Sunday evening, in what Phivolcs said was a sign of the growth of a new lava dome.

‘Rolling thunder’

Lava last flowed out of Mayon in 2014 when 63,000 people fled from their homes.

In an interview with The Manila Times, Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum said lava from the country’s most active volcano would likely generate a pyroclastic flow or a fast current of volcanic matter.

In the last quarter of 2017, Mayon’s ground formation from its upper slope exhibited greater pressure, which easily led to phreatic or steam-driven eruptions this January, he said.

Solidum warned that once Mayon emits a pyroclastic flow, casualties are highly possible.

“Once the ash with hot rocks and gases falls down the slope [at a fast rate], more than 60 to 80 kilometers per hour, people can be killed and be buried directly by the pyroclastic flow. That is why we evacuate people before actual eruption could happen,” he said.

“We think the lava now is more fluid than in 2014. This means the flow can reach further down (the slopes) at a faster rate,” Solidum said.

“We see similarity with eruptions where the first phase of the activity started with lava flow and culminated in an explosive or hazardous part. That’s what we are trying to monitor and help people avoid.”

The Philippines is part of a “Ring of Fire” of islands in the Pacific that were formed by volcanic activity, and has to contend with 22 active volcanoes.

Mayon has a long history of deadly eruptions.

Four foreign tourists and their local tour guide were killed when Mayon last erupted, in May 2013.

In 1814 more than 1,200 people were killed when lava flows buried the town of Cagsawa.

An explosion in August 2006 did not directly kill anyone, but four months later a typhoon unleashed an avalanche of volcanic mud from Mayon’s slopes that claimed 1,000 lives.

In Monday’s lava flow, Phivolcs advised residents to use a damp cloth over their mouths and stay indoors to avoid inhaling sulfur dioxide gas.

“If you breathe, you will feel like coughing and clearing your throat. It also stings and is painful in the eyes,” Bert Recamunda, a 55-year-old engineer and Mayon watcher, said after visiting Camalig town near the volcano.

Classes were suspended in parts of Albay province where Mayon is at, and some schools were used as evacuation centres.

“I am afraid. The volcano rumbles like a rolling thunder,” Nerry Briones, 40, told AFP from a classroom in Camalig town, where she and her three children have stayed for the past two nights along with other evacuees.

Code ‘Blue’

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Monday raised its alert status to “blue” following the series of “phreatic” eruptions of Mayon Volcano.

NDRRMC Executive Director Ricardo Jalad said the blue alert status took effect at 8 a.m. on Monday, which means all concerned agencies under the NDRRMC should render duty at the operations center on a 24-hour rotational basis.

The Department of Social Welfare on Development (DSWD) said on Monday that seven evacuation centers were available for affected families.

The DSWD said it had P5 million worth of standby funds and a stockpile of 13,352 family food packs and non-food items.



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