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Bulusan volcano erupts, ashfall blankets villages

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Bulusan volcano in Sorsogon province spewed a huge, dark cloud on Sunday, prompting evacuations from ash-covered towns while the authorities warned of further eruptions.

GRAY SKY, LANDSCAPE. Thick smoke and ash are seen rising from Bulusan volcano, which erupted on Sunday morning. AFP

The blast from Bulusan volcano lasted about 17 minutes, sending a grey plume shooting up at least one kilometer, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Authorities raised the alert to 1 on the 5-level system, indicating “low-level unrest.”

“There was a phreatic eruption of the Bulusan volcano, meaning the explosion was caused by the boiling water under the crater,” institute head Renato Solidum told radio dzBB.

Phivolcs said ash affected two towns in Sorsogon but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Juban town, two villages experienced “zero visibility” due to the heavy ash and a fire truck was deployed to clear the area, disaster office staff Dennis Despabiladeras said.

“The evacuation is ongoing there, but our priority is senior citizens and those with asthma,” he said.

The Manila airport authority said no flights have been affected by the eruption so far, though pilots have been warned about going near the area.

Four barangays in Irosin, Sorsogon were covered by ashfall after the eruption, the municipal disaster risk reduction and management office said.

Authorities reminded residents that entry into the four-kilometer radius around the volcano is prohibited and advised those living next to it to be cautious “due to the increased possibilities of sudden and hazardous phreatic eruptions.”

Residents near the valleys and rivers were also ordered to be vigilant for mud and stream flows in the event of heavy rainfall.

Bulusan volcano has been active in recent years, with a dozen similar eruptions recorded in 2016 and 2017.

Vehicles driving past ash-covered houses and vegetation in nearby Juban town in a handout photo taken and released on June 5 by the Sorsogon Provincial Public Information Office. AFP

The Philippines is located in the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has over 20 active volcanoes.

Phivolcs said the phreatic eruption was poorly visible through cloud cover over the edifice although a steam-rich grey plume at least one kilometer tall was observed from Juban, Sorsogon and was subsequently observed to drift west.

“Ashfall has been reported in Juban and Casiguran, Sorsogon. Prior to the eruption, the BVN [Bulusan Volcano Network] recorded 77 volcanic earthquakes in the past 24-hour observation period,” Phivolcs said.

Malacañang assured the public that concerned agencies are on standby 24/7 after Alert Level 1 was raised.

Acting presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar reminded the public, particularly the residents of surrounding areas, to be vigilant, monitor any development regarding the volcano’s condition and cooperate with local authorities.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health-Bicol (DOH-5) also issued an advisory to warn the public against the health hazards caused by ashfall.

DOH-5 said the effects of the ashfall range from irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; bronchitis-like illness; discomfort while breathing; skin irritation; and minor skin problems.

Aside from such health risks, ashfall may also result in accidents such as collapsed roofs or vehicular crashes caused by slippery roads.

“To mitigate these health risks and accidents, the public is advised to avoid going out of their homes and to close all windows and doors; hang damp curtains on windows and doors to avoid the entry of ash; use a dust mask or a cover for nose and mouth; use eye protection such as goggles; place pets and other animals in safe locations; clean fallen
ash from the roof to avoid collapse; be updated on the latest situation before traveling; and obey all traffic laws,” DOH-5 said.

The Office of Civil Defense-Bicol (OCD-5) also confirmed the safety of all 14 hikers and four guides who climbed the volcano.

OCD-5 spokesperson Gremil Alexis Naz said they are still waiting for other official situation reports from the Sorsogon Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

“Local government units in Sorsogon are currently conducting assessment and information gathering,” he said in an interview.

Outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo said Sunday her office is preparing to conduct relief operations for residents affected by the eruption of Bulusan Volcano.

“Our team will be traveling to Sorsogon ASAP. Will continue to update you of other needs,” Robredo said in a tweet.

“Immediate needs identified are face masks and bottled water,” she added.

Robredo, who hails from neighboring Camarines Sur also in the Bicol region, noted that the affected areas are the towns of Juban and Irosin in Sorsogon.

Disaster authorities earlier said that the said towns were hit by ashfall brought by Bulusan’s eruption.


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