August 6, 2006

Philippines fears imminent eruption at volcano

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines raised the alert on its
most active volcano to the second-highest level on Monday and
ordered the evacuation of around 20,000 people after three ash
explosions signaled a possible eruption within days.

Mayon volcano in the central Philippines has been spewing
lava and boulders the size of cars since last month, leaving a
bubbling, pyrotechnic trail more than 6 km (4 miles) down its
southeastern slope.

"We deem it necessary to raise the alert level to four
because there were three ash explosions this morning,"
Philippine volcanology and seismology director Renato Solidum
told Reuters.

"That would mean that the hazardous eruption is more

The military sent trucks to ferry thousands of villagers to
evacuation centers outside an 8 km (5 mile) danger zone on the
southeast of the 2,462-metre-high (8,077 feet) volcano.

A 6 km no-go area, fringed by coconut plantations,
encircles the mountain.

Residents reported seeing Mayon, famed for its near-perfect
cone shape, belching cauliflower-like plumes of ash and gases
800 meters high this morning.

Disaster officials have previously said that around 60,000
people in Albay province would be evacuated in the event of a
major eruption with lava moving as fast as 60 km/h.

The Philippines lies on the "Ring of Fire," a belt of
volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to

Mayon is the most active of 22 volcanoes in the country,
having erupted around 50 times over the past four centuries.
The most destructive eruption came in February 1841 when lava
flows buried a town and killed 1,200 people.

The last time Mayon erupted was in 2000-2001.