December 21, 2009

Possible Major Eruption Threatens Philippines

Government officials in the Philippines say that Mayon volcano could erupt violently within days, following a week of spectacular flows of lava and increasing volcanic quakes, The Associated Press reported.

Some 3,000 villagers are still lingering around the volcano even after government warnings to leave the danger zone.

Gov. Joey Salceda said tens of thousands of people have already been evacuated from the foothills of Mayon, which on Monday emitted lava fountains, powerful booming noises, and other signs of an approaching eruption.

However, authorities are having trouble getting villagers away from their homes and farms.

Salceda of central Albay province said there are people who have been evacuated three times, but they keep returning.

"We've been playing cat and mouse with them," he added.

State volcanologists said the 8,070-foot mountain overlooking the Gulf of Albay and Legazpi city shook with nearly 2,000 volcanic earthquakes and tremors between Sunday and Monday, after a week of puffing out ash and sending bursts of lava trickling down its steep slopes.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported that the emission of sulfur dioxide "” an indication of magma rising inside the volcano "” jumped to 6,000 tons per day from the normal 500. It has also recorded "audible booming and rumbling sounds" in the eastern flank of the volcano, accompanied by intensified crater glow at night.

The institute said lava fountains bursting from the cone-shaped volcano rose 650 feet in the air overnight as scientists raised the alert level Sunday to one step below a hazardous eruption, saying one was possible within days.

The only higher level is when a major eruption is already in progress.

Salceda said army troops and police added more patrols to enforce a five-mile exclusion zone around the mountain.

So far, over 44,000 residents were provided with sleeping mats and food inside school buildings, gyms and other emergency shelters, but some have still been spotted checking on their farms in the prohibited zone.

Another 3,000 villagers have stayed behind near the danger zone out of concern for their homes and belongings. A number of residents have been evacuated only to come back to tend to farms and property.

Jukes Nunez, a disaster management official, said army troops have been deployed to persuade them to move to safety.

Nunez told the AP they can't bodily carry them away because that will violate their rights, but they have sent troops to persuade and nag them nonstop to move to safer areas.

Red-hot lava flows have already reached three miles from the crater, scientists said.

Experts agree that a major eruption could trigger pyroclastic flows "” superheated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at very high speeds, vaporizing everything in their path.

Bigger explosions of ash could drift toward nearby towns and cities, including the provincial capital of Legazpi, which is about nine miles away.

Salceda said that pyroclastic flows had reached up to four miles from the crater in Mayon's other eruptions in recent years.

"The probability of survival in an eruption is zero if you're in the danger area. The solution is obviously distance," he said.

Some 30,000 people in Mayon were evacuated when the volcano last erupted in 2006. Another 79 people were killed during an eruption in 1993.

Mayon, renowned for its near-perfect cone, has erupted 48 times in recorded history.


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


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