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20,000 flee restive Mayon

Blast at summit sign of possible eruption as Albay declares state of calamity

MAYON AGLOW. Mayon Volcano’s crater is aglow with fresh lava in this photo taken at 8:30 p.m. last night by Phivolcs. Phivolcs, Albay PNP photos 

Mayon Volcano’s crater glowed well into the night on Friday as state volcanologists said it erupted at the summit and a bigger blast was possible, while authorities evacuated thousands of residents from its surrounding towns and awaited an escalation to Alert Level 4, one step higher than the activity that saw the lava flow down its slopes yesterday.

The Albay provincial government on Friday declared a state of calamity as Mayon’s unrest prompted the evacuation of at least 20,000 residents around its six-kilometer permanent danger zone and nearby areas, according to local officials.

The state of calamity is expected to speed up the release of funds to assist the affected residents. Classes were also suspended in schools within Mayon’s danger zone.

An eruption occurred on the summit of Mayon a day after its alert level status was raised to 3, meaning “an increased tendency towards hazardous eruption,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) confirmed Friday.

The volcano emitted plumes that reached 800 meters tall, while its edifice was also inflated.

In a TV interview, Phivolcs Director Teresito Bacolcol said an eruption and six pyroclastic density currents (PDC) were recorded from the volcano.

“This would imply a continuous supply of magma to the surface, dislodging all the new surface of the lava dome,” Bacolcol said. “Right now, there is an eruption on the summit.”

Raising the alert level in the active volcano in Albay signifies an “increased tendency towards a hazardous eruption,” Phivolcs said.

It also said the repeated collapse of the volcano’s growing summit dome has generated an increasing number and volume of rockfall events since the alert level was raised from 1 to 2 on Monday.

Due to the danger of pyroclastic density currents, lava flows, rockfalls, and other volcanic hazards, the agency has recommended evacuation from the six-kilometer radius Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ).

Increased vigilance against pyroclastic density currents, lahars, and sediment-laden streamflows along channels draining the edifice is also advised, it added.

Ash fall events may occur most likely on the south side of Mayon considering the current prevailing wind pattern. A thin layer of ash fall was detected in nearby areas.

The PDCs, Bacolcol said, were fast-moving and could reach up to hundreds of kilometers per hour.

James Albert Polero’s photo shows pyroclastic movement as seen from Brgy. Bonga, Bacacay, Albay, on Friday (inset). 

Phivolcs said in its June 9 morning bulletin there were 199 rockfall events recorded.

Bacolcol said several parameters were being monitored before the alert level status would be raised.

“For example, if sulfur dioxide emissions go up, because right now, it’s at 332 tons a day, which is even lower than the background level of 500 tons a day,” he said in Filipino.

Volcanic earthquakes are also taken into account.

“Yesterday, we recorded no volcanic earthquakes. Between June 5 and 8, there were only two. So those are the parameters we look at,” he said.

He reminded the public to avoid entering the six-kilometer radius permanent danger zone due to the possibility of rockfall and landslides or even a sudden eruption.

Bacolcol said there are two possible events that may happen.

“This heightened rockfall activity at Mayon could be interpreted as the initial signs of a possible magmatic eruption, or it may also cease just like what happened in 2014 after rock fall events there was a minor lava flow, and then the activity ceased,” he said.

The first scenario is similar to the 2018 eruption wherein the rockfall activity progressed into magmatic eruptions.

If the alert level would be raised to 4, this “would mean there is an imminent hazardous eruption that is about to happen,” the Phivolcs chief said.

If it rains and Mayon emits sulfur dioxide in large quantities, acid rain may also occur, he said.

Meanwhile, Taal volcano, located about 50 kilometers south of Manila, has been releasing sulfur dioxide this week, blanketing surrounding areas in smog and prompting warnings for people to stay indoors.

Steam-rich plumes have been recorded rising two kilometers into the sky, the seismology agency said on Thursday. It has left the alert level at 1.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) in Bicol has activated different teams in response to the ongoing activities of Mayon Volcano.

Lt. Col. Malu Calubaquib, spokesperson of the Police Regional Office 5 (PRO5), said in an interview the PNP-Bicol ensures maximum deployment of all response teams to help residents in Mayon-affected towns.

The entire province of Albay has been placed under a state of calamity as police help residents climb onto trucks to take them away from the volcano’s danger zone. Phivolcs, Albay PNP photos 

“We already activated the Reactionary Standby Support Force (RSSF) and Search and Rescue Teams who shall be first to be deployed. We also activated a Critical Incident Monitoring Action Team that will be used to monitor and generate situational reports on the current condition of Mayon Volcano as essential steps in ensuring the safety of the Albayanos,” Calubaquib said.

She also said logistical capabilities such as trucks and other vehicles were readied for use during the evacuation.

The Department of Agriculture’s Regional Field Office V, meanwhile, advised farmers to place their animals in safer areas.

The Presidential Communications Office said the regional office also local farmers to secure all their farm equipment and machinery.

The authorities are preparing an inventory of the livestock population inside the six-kilometer permanent danger zone, the PCO said.

The DA regional office has already positioned hauling trucks at Tabaco City and Camalig, Albay, and updated its seed reserves, the PCO added.

The vice mayor of Guinobatan, Albay said about 5,000 people were expected to be evacuated from their homes.

In a radio interview, Vice Mayor Anne Gemma Ongjoco said the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) advised all the people within a seven-kilometer radius around the volcano to move to safer areas.

Ongjoco warned that it would be dangerous for tourists to try to view the volcano erupting, particularly if the rain pours.

In other developments:

*Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda thanked Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rex Gatchalian for quickly responding to his request for food packs for 9,829 families in the six-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ) and the seven-kilometer danger zone around Mayon in the municipalities of Camalig, Daraga, Guinobatan, Santo Domingo, and Malilipot.

* Ako Bicol Rep. Elizaldy Co said his group has mobilized efforts to extend a helping hand to the families who have been forced to evacuate their homes due to the increased alert level of Mayon Volcano. “The safety and well-being of our fellow Filipinos remain a top priority for Ako Bicol Party List, and as such, they have proactively initiated measures to provide assistance and support to the affected families during these challenging times,” Co, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said.

Charles Dantes and Rio N. Araja

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