December 16, 2009

Philippines Volcano Erupts Yet Again

On Wednesday, the infamous Mayon volcano in the Albay province of the Philippines let off some steam, oozing lava and spewing ash into the atmosphere and prompting local authorities to evacuate more than 30,000 residents from the surrounding cities.

According the chief state volcanologist Renato Solidum, the eruption was the 40th to occur in the last 400 years and consisted of five separate explosions"”the largest of which sent an plume of ash some 550 yards into the air from the top of the 8,070-foot peak.

Local reports say that the sky above volcano is haloed with white ash and dust by day, while residents of surrounding districts gather from a safe distance at night to watch glowing orange streams of lava flowing down the side of the peak.

But Solidum says that the region is not necessarily out of the woods yet.

"There is the possibility that it can turn into the explosive phase of the eruption," he told The Associated Press.

"Right now, we cannot say for sure, but the initial phases of 2000, 2001 and 2006 eruptions are almost the same."

The volcano's first recorded eruption occurred in 1616, but it wasn't until 1814, some 200 years later, that it would explode in full force, taking the lives of some 1,200 inhabitants and wreaking general havoc on the surrounding region.

On Monday, scientists elevated the alert level after a smaller initial explosion, leading provincial authorities to begin evacuation efforts for the thousands of families that live within a five-mile radius of Mayon.  By late Wednesday, authorities said that they had already transported some 30,000 people to a temporary safe haven.

"We have no more residents inside the danger zone. We are evacuating only those nearby," said Cedric Daep, chief of the provincial disaster management office.

The danger zone includes three cities and five separate municipalities.  The nation's Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales has reportedly cordoned the perimeter around the area to prevent local farmers from attempting to return to their property.

"It is such a big area. The objective is zero casualty," he said.

Local authorities say that citizens living in the shadow of Mayon are by now more or less accustomed to the evacuations.  Some 30,000 inhabitants were evacuated after a 2006 eruption, while a 1993 eruption took the lives of some 79 people.  

The Philippines archipelago"”which has 37 volcanoes, 22 of which are classified as active"”lies right on the rim of the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an area infamous for regular volcanic activity and earthquakes.


Image Caption: Mayon Volcano as viewed from Lingñon Hill in Daraga, Albay in December 2006. Courtesy Tomas Tam - Wikipedia