Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mayon's warning signs raises alert level, forcing people to evacuate that zone

More than 28,000 people were urgently evacuated from their homes in the Philippines today after experts gave warning that the Mayon volcano, which has been belching out ash and lava for a month, could finally erupt.

The country’s chief volcanologist Ernesto Corpus said that the volcano's activity was now entering a far more dangerous phase that could involve sudden and violent explosions of rock, ash and fumes.

“It is absolutely clear to us that Mayon will blow. What we’re seeing now is the shift in its activity from a quiet eruption to a more explosive activity,” he said.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has raised the volcano’s alert to level 4 on a scale of 1-5.

Sulphur dioxide gas emissions have reached their highest levels since lava started flowing down the volcano on July 14 and in the last 24 hours the institute has recorded more than 100 volcanic eruptions.

Renato Solidum, the institute's director, said that this indicated "the prospect of an explosive type of eruption within days”.

The volcano is the country’s most active and has erupted around 50 times in the past 400 years, often with deadly consequences.

A river of thick black, smoking lava, 10-15 metres thick in parts, made its way down the south eastern slope, burning a path through a coconut plantation.

The Government ordered a mandatory evacuation yesterday and increased the size of a danger zone around the base to five miles (8km) after repeated explosions shot giant clouds of ash into the skies.

Several thousand soldiers and 80 military trucks are overseeing the evacuations. But some farmers have stayed behind to tend their crops and guard their homes and belongings.

Bienvenido Belga told AFP that he and about 10 neighbours would stay in a hut on Mayon’s slopes while they harvested their crop of copra - dried coconut meat.

He said they did not feel in danger yet. “We need the money. The copra will rot if left there,” he said.

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