LEGAZPI CITY, Albay: Grimaces, grueling works and amusement are the things expected should Mount Mayon erupt one of these days.
A total of 133,325 people representing 28,081 families living in 66 barangays of three cities and four municipalities around the foot of the volcano would be wearing in their faces the grimace of being temporarily dislocated and living and eating rations for the meantime in crammed evacuation camps.
The grueling works would belong to workers in disaster risk mitigation and rescue and relief operations of local and national government agencies while the excitement will be within the senses of spectators, mostly tourists who would be amused by Mount Mayon’s dramatic exhibition of volcanic fireworks.
Mount Mayon, the country’s most active and known worldwide as the perfectly cone-shaped volcano, was placed by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) under Alert Level 2 on August 15, which means that magma is intruding at depth—an alarming condition which may lead to major eruptions.
The volcano has recorded about 50 major eruptions within the past 400 years, the latest of which—described as phreatic being characterized by minor ash explosions, moderate steam emissions, quiet lava flows and ejection of volcanic materials—took place from July 2009 to January 2010.
The Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) said 9,000 families composed of 44,394 individuals were evacuated and kept in evacuation centers during that six-month period of eruption.
Evacuation always comes as the order of the day when an eruption, based on established parameters, becomes imminent as local government units do not want any repeat of the latest deadly Mayon eruption that killed 75 persons who were caught by an avalanche of super-hot pyroclastic materials while farming at its shoulder on March 2, 1993.
Three other eruption episodes followed between 2006 and 2010 with no casualty on human life recorded owing toearly warnings and evacuation of residents at risk.
But on May 7, 2013, Mount Mayon surprised the whole world with a snap ash blast that caught a group of foreignmountaineers as they approached the summit.
Five Germans and a Filipino guide were killed while seven others were injured in that incident.
In last week’s Mayon Volcano Bulletin, Phivolcs said “sulfur dioxide (SO2) flux was measured at an average of 850 tons per day on August 11, 2014, and at levels beyond the baseline level of 500 tonsper day for the past two months”.
Ground deformation data showed inflationary changes in the edifice from February, based on precise leveling surveys in the second week of June, and edifice inflation from January 2012 baselines based on continuous tilt measurement.
All the above data indicate that the volcano may have been experiencing increased volcanic gas emissions and slight but persistent swelling due to the intrusion of magma beneath.
The growth of the new summit dome, the ground deformation and increased volcanic gas emission signifying the slow intrusion and degassing of magma indicate the advent of a quiet lava extrusion that may eventually lead togreater unrest, based on Mayon’s behavior exhibited in recent eruptions, the Phivolcs said.
As Alert Level 2 remains in effect, Phivolcs resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said human activities are prohibited along the four-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ) around the volcano and residents within the six to 10-kilometer danger zones should stay on alert for possible eruptions.
As this developed, Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal promptly convened the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council which he heads to plan out actions like evacuation of residents to refugee camps in the city and reliefoperations.
“We are now on alert and ready to hold evacuations and relief operations should the situation of Mayon worsento eminent eruptions,” Rosal said.
The city has six barangays of about 10,000 households living within the 10-kilometer extended danger zone.
Other localities covering barangays that are at risk are the cities of Tabaco and Ligao and the municipalitiesof Sto. Domingo, Malilipot, Daraga, Camalig and Guinobatan.
APSEMO head Cedric Daep has issued an advisory that forbids mountain climbing, ATV (all-terrain vehicle) riding beyond lava fronts near the volcano’s foot and orchids gathering, vegetable harvesting in the delineated six-kilometer danger zone.
Mount Mayon is indeed a threat to human lives but only on rare occasions accompanied by an element of surprise.
Daep said that when precautionary measures are observed, the volcano’s eruptions are not life-threatening, instead these are spectacularly entertaining, especially to tourists who would flock the city and nearby places to watch the amazing fireworks it unleashes.
Besides, these eruptions offer extra popularity mileage for national level politicians who would come with photographers and television crews in tow as they step into the frontline of disaster risk mitigation and relief operations.
For the longest time, Mount Mayon —exuding a panoramic beauty that attracts a myriad of tourists from around theglobe for its symmetrical, perfect cone shape standing at 8,077 feet above the ground—is the main landmark of Albay province and one of the country’s major tourist spots.
Last year alone, this city which is the center of Albay tourism—received over 500,000 tourists, most of them fascinated by the beauty of Mayon and the interesting add-on attractions put in place by the city government.
Mount Mayon, which belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire, is being closely watched by the Phivolcs.