Friday, June 16, 2006

Schools close due to volcanic ashes!

EXPLOSIONS of ash from restive Bulusan volcano forced several schools to close Wednesday, as officials called emergency meetings to assess damage to agriculture and health.

The 1,560-meter (5,149-foot) Mount Bulusan belched a plume of ash 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) into the night sky Tuesday, blanketing at villages in Sorsogon province with thick ash, clouding visibility and keeping jittery people indoors for hours, officials said.

The explosion of ash, Bulusan's seventh since March 21, was accompanied by mild tremors, but there were no other signs of unrest that would indicate an imminent major eruption, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

The ash was blown by the wind northwest toward the farming towns of Casiguran and Juban, where officials canceled classes in at least nine primary and secondary schools to safeguard more than 2,600 students from health risks, officials said.

Although the ash has settled on rooftops and on the ground,
it billows back into the air as vehicles pass by, said Maria Teresa Fragata, mayor of Juban where at least eight schools were closed in seven villages hit by ash.

"We think the children would be better off in their homes than in schools today," Fragata told The Associated Press by telephone.

Another school was closed in Casiguran's Mabini village, close to Juban, officials said.

Fragata said she ordered police to warn motorists to drive slowly to avoid whipping up the ash. A brief rain helped clear ash from rooftops and streets, she said.

"There was zero visibility for 12 to 13 minutes, and people were all inside their homes during the ash fall," Fragata said.

Fragata said she called an emergency meeting to assess possible health risks and damage to Juban's coconut plantations, rice and vegetable farms, which are the main source of livelihood in the town of 28,000 people.

Bulusan's ash has destroyed up to 15 million pesos worth of rice crops in Juban in March alone, she said.

Philippine scientists have warned of more ash explosions and possible mudflows from Bulusan, about 390 kilometers (240 miles) southeast of Manila. Officials in towns near the volcano have made preparations to evacuate in case of a major eruption.

The Philippines, which has 22 active volcanos, is in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where volcanic activity and earthquakes are common.

In June 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the northern Philippines exploded in one of the world's biggest volcanic eruptions in the 20th century.

(1 dollar = 53.00 pesos)

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