June 8, 2006

Philippines raises alert over volcano

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines raised the alert level
on one of its most active volcanoes and warned residents on
Thursday to stay away from the mountain after its crater
belched ash clouds.

Bulusan volcano in central Philippines spewed ash nearly 2
km (1 mile) high, prompting authorities to raise the alert
level to 2 from 1 ordered in March when ash first began flowing
from its crater.

"We are seeing an increasing frequency of ash explosions,"
Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of
Volcanology and Seismology, told Reuters.

Solidum warned residents in Sorsogon province not to
venture within a 4-km (2.5 mile) zone of the 1,559-meter
volcano because of fears of sudden explosions. "We raised alert
level 2 last night," he said as a measure of precaution.

At level 3 an explosion is considered possible, at level 4
it is seen as likely and at level 5, the highest alert, an
eruption has occurred with lava flows or ash columns reaching 6

Bulusan, one of the six most active volcanoes in the
Philippines, has had five ash eruptions since March.


In nearby Casiguran town, thousands of face masks were
distributed to residents after volcanic ash fell on homes in
the coastal community's 25 villages.

Schools were closed and the Office of Civil Defense urged
residents not to drink ground water because of possible

Ash fall was also reported in nearby Juban town and
officials said as many as 50,000 people would be evacuated in
case of a major volcanic eruption.

Television showed images of people cleaning their yards,
training water hoses to wash away greyish ash from plants and
roofs of their homes.

"It's itchy and hurts the nose," said a woman.

Vulcanologist Ed Laguerta said they were keeping the danger
zone. "There's a possibility that these little explosions can
become more frequent," he said. "That's what we're watching out
for, the changes in the character of the explosions."

The Philippines, like neighboring Indonesia, lies in an
area of the Pacific basin that is vulnerable to earthquakes and
volcanic eruptions.

Thousands of villagers have been evacuated from the slopes
of Mount Merapi there as hot gas and lava flows from its

Mount Pinatubo, on Luzon island in the northern
Philippines, erupted in 1991 in the century's biggest blast,
burying dozens of villages under tonnes of mud after lying
dormant for 600 years.

More than 800 people died in the wake of Pinatubo's
eruption, mostly from diseases in overcrowded evacuation camps.

(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato)