Monday, July 31, 2006

People get close to Mayon's lava instead of running away from it!

LAVA from Mayon Volcano threatened to burn coconut groves along its slopes yesterday as dozens of awed onlookers flocked to the edge of the flow, officials said.

The volcano came to life in a mild eruption on June 14, oozing lava from the crater of the 2,474-meter mountain.

The Philippines’ chief volcanologist said the lava flow was still moving very slowly down Mayon, which continued to show signs of a possible explosive eruption as opposed to the mild episode now.

There are coconut trees in the path of the lava, but there are no houses close to the molten rocks, according to Renato Solidum, chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
Cedric Daep, disaster action officer for Albay province, said local officials had started fumigating shelters to get rid of mosquitoes in preparation for a possible mass evacuation.

Solidum, in Manila where he is receiving reports from scientists in the field, said sulfur dioxide gas readings—indicators of impending eruption—were “very high” at about 3,000 to 10,000 tons daily last week, compared with the normal level of 500 tons.

“The scenarios will be continuous lava flow or there might be a shift to an explosive phase,” Solidum said.

He said that based on previous events, a steady increase in sulfur dioxide emissions could end in an eruption.

A sudden decrease after very high readings could also result in a large explosion, which is characterized by tall ash columns and pyroclastic flows, which are clouds of extremely hot gases, ash and other debris that race down mountain slopes at high speed, incinerating everything in their path.

Earthquakes may signal rising magma levels and the “inflation” of the mountain, all signs of a possible violent eruption, Solidum said.

Scientists said many channels were filling up with fresh lava and other debris that were rolling down at 250 meters a day, threatening several towns at the volcano’s feet.

The most advanced lava front was less than a kilometer away from the 6-km permanent-danger zone, volcanologist Ed Laguerta said.

‘What worries [volcanologists] are the pyroclastic flows that could threaten the lives of residents who are still tending their farms at the foot of the volcano,” he said.

In Tabaco City, some 114 families from Magapo village voluntarily left their homes and sought refuge at the San Antonio Elementary School.

Yesterday, dozens of residents and local tourists flocked to the village of Mabinit on the outskirts of Legazpi City to watch in awe as lava fragments crumbled, exposing molten rocks beneath.
One man went up to one of the rocks to light a cigarette. Some posed for pictures with the smoldering lava deposit more than five stories high behind them as a backdrop.

Vegetation close to the edge of the flow caught fire or was singed.

Local residents said a small private chapel made of wood, abandoned after an eruption in 2001, had already been covered by volcanic debris.

Mayon is one of the Philippines’ 22 active volcanos. Its most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried a town in mud. A 1993 eruption killed 79 people.

The Philippines is in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where volcanic activity and earthquakes are common.

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