What to expect should Mt. Mayon erupt (Feature)

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, (PNA) –- Grimaces, grueling works and amusement are the things expected should Albay’s Mt.Mayon erupt one of these days.

A total of 133,325 persons representing 28,081 families residing in 66 barangays of three cities and four municipalities around the foot of the volcano who are the population at risk would be wearing in their faces the grimace of being temporarily dislocated and living and eating rations for the meantime in crammed evacuation camps.

The grueling works would belong to workers in disaster risk mitigation and rescue and relief operations of local and national government agencies while the excitement will be within the senses of spectators, mostly tourists who would be amused by Mayon’s dramatic exhibition of volcanic fireworks.

Mt. Mayon, the country’s most active and known worldwide as the perfectly cone-shaped volcano last Friday was placedby the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) under Alert Level 2, which means that magmais intruding at depth—an alarming condition which may lead to major eruptions.

The volcano has in its record about 50 major eruptions within the past 400 years, the latest of which — described as phreatic being characterized by minor ash explosions, moderate steam emissions, quiet lava flows and ejection of volcanic materials — took place from July 2009 to January 2010.

Over 9,000 families composed of 44,394 individuals, according to records of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, were evacuated and kept in evacuation centers during that six-month period of eruption.

Evacuation always comes as the order of the day when an eruption, based on established parameters, becomes imminentas local government units do not want any repeat of the latest deadly Mayon blast that killed 75 persons who were caught by an avalanche of super-hot pyroclastic materials while farming at its shoulder on March 2, 1993.

Three other eruption episodes followed between 2006 and 2010 with no casualty on human life recorded owing to early warnings and evacuation of residents at risk.

On May 7, 2013, however, Mt. Mayon surprised the whole world with a snap ash blast that caught a group of foreign mountaineers as they approached the summit.

Five German nationals and a Filipino guide were killed while seven others were injured in that incident.

In its latest Mayon Volcano Bulletin, the Phivolcs said that as of 8:00 a.m. Saturday, “sulfur dioxide (SO2) flux was measured at an average of 850 tons per day on 11 August 2014, and at levels beyond the baseline level of 500 tons per day for the past two months.”

Ground deformation data showed inflationary changes in the edifice from February, based on precise leveling surveys in the second week of June, and edifice inflation from January 2012 baselines based on continuous tilt measurement.

All the above data indicate that the volcano may have been experiencing increased volcanic gas emissions and slight but persistent swelling due to the intrusion of magma beneath.

The growth of the new summit dome, the ground deformation and increased volcanic gas emission signifying the slow intrusion and degassing of magma indicate the advent of a quiet lava extrusion that may eventually lead to greater unrest, based on Mayon’s behavior exhibited in recent eruptions, the Phivolcs said.

As Alert Level 2 remains in effect, Phivolcs resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said human activities are prohibited along the four-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ) around the volcano and residents within the six to 10-kilometer danger zones should stay on alert for possible eruptions.

As this developed, Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal promptly convened the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council which he heads to plan out actions like evacuation of residents to refugee camps in the city and reliefoperations.

“We are now on alert and ready to hold evacuations and relief operations should the situation of Mayon worsen to eminent eruptions,” Rosal said.

The city has six barangays of about 10,000 households living within the 10-kilometer extended danger zone.

Other localities covering barangays that are at risk are the cities of Tabaco and Ligao and the municipalities of Sto. Domingo, Malilipot, Daraga, Camalig and Guinobatan.

The APSEMO headed by Cedric Daep on the other hand has issued an advisory that forbids Mt. Mayon mountain climbing; ATV (all-terrain vehicle) riding beyond lava fronts near the volcano’s foot and orchids gathering, vegetable harvesting in the delineated six-kilometer danger zone.

Mt. Mayon is indeed a threat to human lives but only on rare occasions accompanied by an element of surprise.

When precautionary measures are observed, its eruptions, according to Daep, are not life threatening instead spectacularly entertaining, especially to tourists who would flock the city and nearly places to watch the amazing fireworks it unleashes.

Besides, its eruptions offer extra popularity mileage for national level politicians who would come with photographers and television crews in tow as they step into the frontline of disaster risk mitigation and relief operations.

For the longest time, Mt. Mayon– exuding a panoramic beauty that attracts a myriad of tourists from around the globe for its symmetrical, perfect cone shape standing at 8,077 feet above the ground — is the main landmark of Albay Province and one of the country’s major tourist spots.

Last year alone, this city — which is the center of Albay tourism — received over 500,000 tourists, most of them fascinated by the beauty of Mayon and the interesting add-on attractions put in place by the city government.

Mt. Mayon belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire and being closely watched by the Phivolcs.