Mayon's looming eruption draws Estrada to Legazpi
() - February 24, 2000 - 12:00am

President Estrada will fly to Legazpi City today to oversee the distribution of relief goods to evacuees from the danger zone around Mayon Volcano.

As the Chief Executive prepared for his trip yesterday, he urged people living within the six-kilometer danger zone to heed the advice of officials and leave their homes for safer ground away from Mayon's periphery.

The President told Malacañang reporters he is ready to order a forced evacuation if some people continue to refuse to leave their homes on the slopes of Mayon.

"Sometimes, some of our countrymen are hard-headed," he said. "But some of them refuse to leave their homes because they fear to lose their valuables. So I am taking this opportunity to call upon them to listen to our advice for them to evacuate and to transfer to safer ground so that we can avoid whatever accident that might befall them while Mayon Volcano is acting up again."

The President assured people in Albay the government is prepared to deal with Mayon's possible eruption or any related calamity through the National Disaster Coordinating Council headed by Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado.

Mercado said more than 10,000 families may be

affected and twice more will have to be evacuated in case of a major eruption. He added that at least eight municipalities and one city are considered vulnerable to pyroclastic flow, ashfalls and probably lahar.

"At least 33 evacuation centers have been prepared and they can accommodate as much as 25,000 families," Mercado told a press briefing.

In his three weekly radio programs yesterday, Mr. Estrada expressed concern about reports that some people living within the danger zone continue to reject government offers to evacuate them to safer areas.

Residents continued to flee from the danger zone around Mayon Volcano, trekking to various evacuation centers in different parts of Albay province yesterday.

As of 8 a.m. yesterday 4,200 people or 800 families, mostly residents of the permanent danger zone, were already housed in various evacuation centers, said Cedric Daep, chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Office.

At least 3,944 people have been taken from seven barangays on Mayon's southeastern slopes last Tuesday and more villagers were evacuated yesterday, according to the Albay provincial disaster management office.

Most residents of Barangay Bonga, directly in the path of a possible lava flow, have been evacuated, but many of the menfolk remained to watch over crops and farm animals.

Residents who refused to evacuate were made to sign a waiver that they have chosen to stay despite the risk, rather than leave for the evacuation centers, said Daep.

Daep said Gov. Al Francis Bichara has followed up the status of the province's previous request to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for 50 pieces of tarpaulin tents for the evacuation centers in Sto. Domingo town.

"We had already sent the request since June last year so that classes will not be disrupted with the presence of the evacuees," he told The STAR.

Ted Sandoval of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said the lava dome earlier estimated to be half a million cubic meters is growing as it nears the surface.

"We are expecting more lava fragments to roll down the slope as fresh magma pushes the dome outside the volcano's mouth," he said.

However, there was still no indication of an imminent eruption, noting that Mayon, one of the country's most active, is following its usual pattern of a gentle rising of magma, followed by an eruption and subsequent decline in volcanic activity, said Dr. Ernesto Corpus, Phivolcs chief of volcano monitoring.

The fragmentation of the crater's lava dome caused large rocks to break away and come crashing down the 2,460-meter volcano's slopes, volcanologists said.

Classes in some schools have been suspended by the Department of Education, Culture and Sports to allow the use of classrooms as evacuation centers in case Mayon erupts.

The schools are in the towns of Tabaco, Malilipot, Bacnay, Sto. Domingo, Ligao, Guinobotan, and this city. Four elementary schools are found on Mayon's slopes in Barangays Matonog, Buyuan, Bonga and Mabinit.

"Our regional office in Albay has been coordinating with the National Disaster Coordinating Council to ensure the safety of school children," said DECS Undersecretary Victor Andres Maralit.

Higher Education Commissioner Mona Valisno on the other hand, urged private colleges and universities in Albay to open their campuses to evacuees should more evacuation centers become necessary.

"We hope they can allocate space in their campuses for the use of the evacuees," she said. "The situation dictates that we should welcome those who need our help."

Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is also secretary of social welfare and development, said her department has prepositioned food supplies to augment the relief efforts of local governments in case Mayon erupts.

The town of Tabaco has already distributed relief goods to many evacuees, she added.

Alert Level 3 still up

Since last week, authorities have issued a level-3 alert out of a maximum of five, indicating that an eruption is possible within weeks.

Juan Cordon, a research specialist at Phivolcs, said Mayon's top is swelling, indicating a continued rise of magma from its core.

There were short duration tremors that suggested the magma is more fluid, freely moving through the crater and cracking the dome before emerging as huge molten rock fragments, he added.

A Phivolcs bulletin said: "As the dome grows, materials are continuously being detached from the lava dome comprised of either lava fragments or rocks that produce rockfalls."

The continued collapse of the growing lava dome's southern side caused rockfalls that disturbed the volcanic deposit on Mayon's slopes and produced ash clouds that drifted west to northwest.

Phivolcs said the continuous ascent of hot molten rocks upward had resulted in the collapse of the lava dome at the summit's southern side, causing lava fragments to slide down a distance of one kilometer.

Bright orange lava fragments were visible last night at different intervals, cascading at the gully downwards, observers said. -

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