June 17, 2006

Villagers flee near central Philippines volcano

MANILA (Reuters) - About 40 families living on the slopes
of an active volcano in the central Philippines will begin
evacuation to safer areas this week, local government officials
said on Sunday.

Casiguran town Mayor Edwin Hamor told reporters he had
ordered local police units to start the evacuation of residents
from Imlagadian village, which is inside a 4-km (2.5-mile)
danger zone, as Mount Bulusan was showing increased activity.

"The residents there refused to leave their homes," Hamor
said. "We were just obeying the orders of the president to move
people on the volcano slopes to much safer areas. We don't want
to sacrifice lives in case of a major eruption."

An estimated 50,000 people in six towns of Sorogon province
would be evacuated in the event of a big eruption, Arnel Capili
of the Office of Civil Defense said.

On Saturday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo toured three
towns in the Bicol region, where falling volcanic ashes have
damaged homes and crops. A river system in Irosin town has been
contaminated by ashes and high levels of sulphuric acid.

Civil defense officials have held evacuation drills in
three towns to test preparations for a major eruption.

The 1,559-meter (5,115-foot) volcano has erupted 15 times,
most recently in November 1994, though seven minor eruptions
have been recorded since March.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology
raised its alert level on Bulusan to a precautionary 2 earlier
this month and reminded residents on Thursday to stay away from
the mountain after its crater belched clouds of ash.

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 km (3.75 miles).

Mount Pinatubo, on Luzon island in the northern
Philippines, erupted in 1991 after lying dormant for 600 years.
That eruption buried dozens of villages under tonnes of mud and
more than 800 people died, mostly from diseases in crowded
evacuation camps.