LEGAZPI CITY: The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Saturday warned disaster officials and the public to brace for lahar flow from Mayon Volcano following heavy rainfall brought by the tail end of the cold front.
Ed Laguerta, Phivolcs resident chief volcanologist, said all river channels connected to Mayon gullies were more dangerous than ashfall and could become conduits for lahar flow in low-lying areas of Albay province.
Lahar flows threatened the areas of Guinobatan, Ligao in the province’s third district, Camalig, Daraga and Legazpi in the second district and in Malilipot town and Tabaco City in the first district.
Lahar from the restive volcano is soft but dangerous and could tumble down big boulders ejected by Mayon.
Fifteen days of intermittent explosions ejected at least 25 million cubic meters (cm) of volcanic debris, 10.5 million cms of which are lahar materials.
As Phivolcs told the public and disaster officials to be on alert for lahar flow, local officials reported a flow of grayish to black water cascading in Bulawan river in Malilipot some 23 to 25 kilometers away from Legazpi City.
Numerous river channels from the slopes of Mayon volcano are now swollen following heavy rainfall, prompting disaster officials to enforce evacuation of residents living along the riverbanks.
“They may not be affected by Mayon eruption but threatened by lahar flow so they must be evacuated to higher grounds for safety,” Cedric Daep, chief of the Albay Public Safety Emergency Management Office (Apsemo), said.
Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara on Saturday convened municipal mayors from the affected towns and ordered told them to immediately carry out the forced evacuation of residents.
He also warned those living along the river channels of Buyuan, Mabinit in Legazpi, Miisi in Daraga, Basud in Santo Domingo, San Vicente in Tabaco and Quirangay in Camalig to be extra vigilant.
He said the total volume of lahar deposited on the watershed was approximately 9 million cubic meters, excluding unverified deposits on the northern flank. The total volume of ashfall on the western sector was roughly 1.5 million cubic meters.
“These deposits can be remobilized by rainwater and generate lahar by themselves and or by incorporating existing erodible material on channel banks,” Bichara said.
Phivolcs warned of potential lahar and sediment-laden stream flows generated by heavy rains in all river channels draining the slopes of Mayon, especially Buyuan, Miisi, Mabinit, Basud, San Vicente, Buang, Quirangay and Masarawag-Maninila.
A total of 21,256 families or 81,997 people are already housed in 72 evacuation centers or 1,038 school classrooms in Legazpi City, Tabaco City, Ligao City, Guinobatan, Camalig, Daraga, Santo Domingo, Malilipot and Bacacay.
Duterte to visit
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday said he would visit the residents who fled their homes following the eruption of Mayon Volcano.
“It’s the wind current that you have to worry about because it will bring the ashes to you, where you are. But if it’s safe to go there and even if it’s not, you give me the space to land. If I am cleared, I will go there in about one or two days,” he said.
Based on the media advisory sent by Malacañang, Duterte is scheduled to visit Abay on Monday.
The President assured the public that the national government would fully support Albay.
“I’d like to assure Governor Bichara, nahulog na ‘yung pera (the money has been sent),” Duterte said.
“So the delay, the hitch must be somewhere else, pero hindi kami (but not from us),” the President added.
Duterte’s statement came after Bichara said on Thursday the provincial government was running out of funds to help the evacuees.
As of January 24, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council reported sending a total of P28,989,392 worth of assistance to residents of Albay.
Mayon has been under Alert Level 4—signifying that a hazardous eruption is imminent, possibly within days—since Monday.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo visited some towns in Albay on Wednesday, saying her office will give financial assistance to the evacuees.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE