Evacuation ordered as Mayon threatens to erupt

Ghio Ong, Helen Flores - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has ordered the forced evacuation of more than 30,000 residents near the restive Mayon Volcano after state volcanologists spotted a crater glow and raised its alert level from 2 to 3 Monday night.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) heightened Mayon’s alert status at 10 p.m. after registering 39 rock fall events and 32 low frequency volcanic earthquakes during the past 24 hours.

Ed Laguerta, Phivolcs’ Bicol chief, said the 2,460-meter-high Mayon is exhibiting relatively high unrest, with magma at the crater and “hazardous eruption... possible within weeks.”

The forced evacuation was implemented in areas covered by the six-kilometer radius from the crater, called the Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ), that included portions of the cities of Legazpi, Tabaco and Ligao and the towns of Guinobatan, Camalig, Daraga, Sto. Domingo and Malilipot.

The military had started the forced evacuation of residents near the PDZ.

Armed Forces Southern Luzon chief Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya said the evacuation would cover residents within the six- to eight-kilometer danger zone.

He said that more than 1,600 families from the towns of Camalig, Malilipot and Guinobatan in Albay have been brought to safer places as of yesterday afternoon.

Visaya said all local disaster management councils have been activated and are ready for any emergency situation.

About 20 military trucks were pre-positioned at the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Operations Center in Legazpi City.

The Army’s 9th Infantry Division was expected to send 30 more trucks for the evacuation operation.

Col. Raul Farnacio, commander of the Army’s 901st brigade, said the residents were willing to leave their homes and move to temporary shelters.

“There was no resistance because they have been practicing this scenario,” he said.

Laguerta said the evacuation was conducted in areas along the southeastern portion of the volcano due to possible pyroclastic flows, which are extremely destructive and deadly.

“In the past several hours, a noticeable escalation of unrest was recorded by the Mayon Volcano monitoring network,” Phivolcs said.

“Crater glow has become observable, indicating incandescence of the crater from molten lava and hot volcanic gas,” it said.

Phivolcs warned the public not to enter the PDZ around the volcano and the seven-kilometer Extended Danger Zone (EDZ) due to the danger of rock falls, landslides and sudden explosions or dome collapse that may generate hazardous volcanic flows.

Mayon’s most destructive eruption happened on Feb. 1, 1814, killing at least 1,200 people.

Laguerta said Mayon observers consider 2014 as an overdue year for another eruption.

“If you will notice, 2014 is 200 years apart from the 1814 Plenian eruption and 100 years away from the 1897 explosion. The pattern of these eruptions tells us that Mayon’s deadliest explosion happened within an interval of 100 years,” he said.

“We have to get them (residents) out of the high risk area fast while we still have time,” said Salceda during an emergency meeting at the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) conference room at Camp General Simeon Ola in Legazpi City yesterday morning.

Aside from evacuating those living at the PDZ, disaster officials have advised residents to evacuate from the EDZ located at the southwest, north and the northeast sector of the volcano.

Salceda had asked officials of the Department of Education and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to prepare the evacuation sites and provisions of the evacuees.

The DSWD said that its Field Office V has already activated and dispatched the members of its Quick Response Team to closely monitor the situation and coordinate with local government units for needed preparations.

DSWD gave assurance that it has enough resources to assist Albay and other local government units (LGUs) that would be affected by the volcano.

Salceda said that four Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional Para el Desarrollo (AECID) typhoon-proof evacuation sites in Daraga, Camalig, Guinobatan and Ligao City, and six Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) resilient evacuation structures in Gogon, Libon, Sto. Domingo, Manito, Polangui and Oas are now ready to house the evacuees.

“The evacuation must be completed within three days,” said Salceda.

The National Food Authority said there is enough rice for the region with 239,480 bags, while DSWD has 12,000 starter kits.

Salceda urged the Department of Health to purchase some 1.2 million facemasks to be distributed to residents to prevent upper respiratory infection from ash inhilation.

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