Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mayon volcano, likely to go with a bang

Red-hot lava poured down the slopes of Mayon volcano, accompanied by more tremors, for the fourth straight day on Monday, indicating an explosive eruption may occur soon, scientists said.The government, meanwhile, assured residents that evacuation plans were in place in case of a major eruption, although authorities for time being ruled out raising the alert level from two notches below the highest.

The silent, steady flow of lava and debris on the 2,474-meter (8,118-foot) mountain, famous for its near-perfect cone, has reached 800 meters (2,624 feet) down the summit since Friday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.Seismic activityGleaming in the dark and steaming during the day, the advancing lava and cascading rocks were accompanied by 314 tremors in the past 24 hours, significantly higher than the 111 tremors the previous day, the institute said.

"The increased seismic activity, relatively fast lava extrusion rate and high sulfur dioxide emission rate indicate heightened unrest of the volcano, which could lead to explosive eruption," it said.Officials had earlier estimated a hazardous eruption could occur within weeks.Authorities have extended a six-kilometer (3.7-mile) danger zone around the peak of the volcano to seven kilometers (four miles) on the southeastern slope, where most of the lava and other debris have been rolling down.

On the streets of Legazpi city, the capital of Albay province near the volcano, about 340 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Manila, it was business as usual as people went about their lives. In the evenings, residents and tourists gathered at a hillside to gaze at the flowing lava.Disaster preparednessPresidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said on Monday the National Disaster Coordinating Council and local authorities "are on top of all disaster preparedness measures to ensure the safety of the residents who may be directly affected by the volcanic activity."

Mayon's most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried a town in mud. A 1993 eruption killed 79.The Philippines is in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where volcanic activity and earthquakes are common.In 1991, Mount Pinatubo exploded in the northern Philippines in one of the world's biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing about 800 people.

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