Mayon eruption coming

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — MAYON is showing all the signs of a big explosion and a major eruption may be weeks away, volcanologists warned yesterday.

Lava continues to flow from the volcano’s Bonga gully. Experts noted that the lava flow was larger prompting authorities to expand the six-kilometer radius permanent danger zone to seven.

At least 78 volcanic quakes were reported for the past 24 hours, which means that magma is ascending towards the crater, another sign of an imminent eruption.

“We saw the formation of two lava domes at the crater during an aerial survey yesterday,” volcanologist July Sabit said. “This indicates pressure is building up from the inside and the rising magma had accumulated at the mouth to form the domes.”

He said it was likely that the domes would collapse if the pressure continued to build, causing a major eruption or fast-moving avalanches of hot volcanic ash, rock and gases, known as pyroclastic flows.

This could also mean that tens of thousands of villagers evacuated from around the picturesque but deadly Mayon could spend up to four months crammed in temporary shelters, officials said.

Sabit said lava slowly cascading down Mayon’s south-eastern flank was coming from the domes.

However, he said scientists have not seen “intensified lava fountainings, or big earthquakes” that could precipitate a sudden huge explosion and a raising of the alert level.

Chief volcanologist Renato Solidum said lava has cascaded about 1.5 kilometers from the summit, punctuated by small ash explosions over the past 24 hours.

The current pattern was similar to Mayon’s last eruption in 2006, when it expelled lava and steam for two months lasting until the first week of September.

No one died directly from that explosion, but a powerful typhoon three months later dislodged tons of debris from the slopes, unleashing devastating mudslides that left over 1,000 dead.

“We will fully evaluate the volcano as the non-explosive phase progresses,” Solidum said.

The military and police have been evacuating an estimated 50,000 residents, mostly from farming villages in Mayon’s fertile foothills.

By late Wednesday, an estimated 30,760 people had been relocated to public schools converted into evacuation areas. “We are continuing our evacuations today,” Raffy Alejandro, the chief civil defense official in the region, said. “We aim to be able to evacuate everyone out of harm’s way by the end of today, or tomorrow.

“Our best protection against any pyroclastic flow is distance and all our evacuation sites are beyond the danger zone,” Alejandro said.

He said the provincial government of Albay has resources enough to last only four weeks.

But with an explosion likely, residents may be displaced for up to four months, and help will be needed from the national government and international humanitarian agencies, Alejandro said.

“We can’t afford to bring them back with Mayon’s unpredictable behavior.They will have to spend Christmas and New Year in evacuation centers.”

President Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the force evacuation of residents living within the six kilometer-danger zone.

Presidential Economic Affairs Spokesman Gary Olivar said the Department of Social Welfare and Development is ready to provide food and other assistance to evacuees.