LEGAZPI—A 10-kilometer-high column of steam and ash shot up from Mayon volcano on Monday, darkening the skies and raining ash on communities where tens of thousands have fled after warnings of an impending eruption.
Mayon volcano’s new activity prompted state volcanologists to raise the alert level one notch higher than the initial warning scientists issued last week, meaning a hazardous eruption is possible within days.
Fine ash and sand fell on Legazpi, a city of about 200,000 people, and nearby areas after the midday explosion of Mount Mayon, forcing motorists to turn on their windshield wipers and headlamps, an eyewitness report said.
Live local television footage and photographs showed the ash column rising several kilometers above the volcano, blotting out the sun in a largely agricultural region some 330 kilometers southeast of Manila.
“I had to stop because my helmet had filled up with ash,” local housewife Girlie Panesa, 39, said as she parked her motorcycle by the roadside in nearby Ligao town.
She asked for water from bystanders to wash the cement-grey ash off her helmet visor and said she plans to drive home despite the hazardous conditions because her teenage daughter was alone in their house.
“We expect the explosions to continue,” Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) director Renato Solidum told a news conference in Manila.
“There is a possibility of a dangerous eruption, the start of which we are already witnessing,” Solidum added.
Even more dangerous because of its reach would be the flow of lahar, a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris, and water, that would affect rivers, lakes and their tributaries and residents around them, Solidum said.
“The damage of lahar flow would reach that far,” he said. “I hope it won’t rain.”
He also said ash fall was a volcanic hazard to could go well beyond the eight-kilometer danger zone if the series of eruptions continues.
“Protect yourself against ash fall. Please wear a gas mask or [cover your nose with a handkerchief],” he said.
Solidum advised local officials to evacuate more areas around the crater, expanding the danger zone from six kilometers to eight kilometers.
More than 40,000 people had fled in the past week, the civil defense office in Manila said Monday.
Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda appealed for relief assistance and donations for Mayon Volcano evacuees, now housed in government evacuation centers around the province, to augment limited resources of local communities.
Salceda said there’s a need for steady supply of relief goods—food and drinking water—especially since no one can tell when the calamity would end, as in the past Mayon eruptions when evacuees stayed for months in evacuation centers. As of Jan. 18, there were 6,973 families or 26,971 persons, housed in evacuation centers based on reports from municipal disaster risk reduction and management offices and the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office.
Mayon, a near-perfect cone, rises 2,460 meters above Legazpi and is considered the most volatile of the country’s 22 active volcanoes.
The Philippines is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire” of islands that were formed by volcanic activity.
The most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometers northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.
Ten domestic flights of Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air and its sister airline Cebgo were cancelled following the closure of Legazpi Airport on Monday due to eruption of Mayon Volcano.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines had ordered the temporary closure of the Legazpi airport in view of the volcanic eruption.
CAAP also issued notice to airmen and advised pilots flying near the area to exercise extreme caution, as ash from volcanic eruption can be hazardous to the aircraft.
PAL chief information officer and spokesperson Ma. Cielo Villaluna said the airline will assist affected passengers in the rebooking of their flights or in refunding the full cost of their tickets. With Joel E. Zurbano and AFP
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