56,000 people flee as Philippines volcano spews fresh lava fountains
Ash plumes rose up to 1.9 miles into the sky from Mount Mayon’s crater.
The Philippines’ most active volcano spewed fountains of red-hot lava and massive ash plumes in a dazzling but dangerous new eruption on Tuesday that sent 56,000 villagers fleeing to evacuation centres.
Lava fountains gushed up 2,300ft (700m) above Mount Mayon’s crater and ash plumes rose up to 1.9 miles (3km), according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
An explosive eruption at noon local time on Monday was the most powerful since the volcano started acting up more than a week ago.
“We couldn’t sleep last night because of the loud rumblings. It sounded like an airplane that’s about to land,” 59-year-old farmer Quintin Velardo, 59, told the Associated Press at an evacuation centre in Legazpi city, where he took his wife, children and grandchildren.
Despite the danger, he said he needed to return to his village, about 5 miles (8km) from the erupting volcano, to take his livestock to safety. A few minutes later, the volcano belched a massive column of greyish ash.
Authorities warned that a violent eruption may occur in hours or days, characterised by more rumblings and pyroclastic flows — superheated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at high speeds, vaporising everything in their path.
After Monday’s explosion, officials raised Mayon’s alert level to four on a scale of five, and the danger zone was expanded to 5 miles (8km) from the crater, requiring thousands more residents to be evacuated, including at least 12,000 who returned to their homes last week as Mayon’s rumblings temporarily eased and then scrambled back to the emergency shelters this week.
At least 56,217 people were taking shelter in 46 evacuation camps on Tuesday and army troops and police were helping move more villagers from their homes, officials said.
Authorities struggled to prevent villagers from sneaking back to check on their homes and farms and to watch a popular cockfight in Albay’s Santo Domingo town despite the risks and police patrols and checkpoints, said Cedric Daep, a provincial disaster response official.
He has recommended electricity and water supplies be cut in communities within the no-go zones to discourage residents from returning.
The daytime eruptions have plunged nearby villages into darkness and sent lava, rocks and debris cascading down Mayon’s slopes toward the no-entry danger zone.
There have been no reports of deaths or injuries. Aircraft have been ordered to stay away from the crater and ash-laden winds, and several domestic flights have been cancelled.
Volcanic ash fell in more than a dozen towns in coconut-growing Albay and nearby Camarines Sur province on Monday, with visibility heavily obscured in a few towns because of the thick grey ash, Jukes Nunez, another Albay provincial disaster response officer, said.
“It was like night time at noon, there was zero visibility in some areas because the ash fall was so thick,” he said.
More than 30,000 ash masks and about 5,000 sacks of rice, along with medicine, water and other supplies, were being sent to evacuation centres, the Office of Civil Defence regional director Claudio Yucot said.
Food packs, water, medicine and other relief goods remain adequate but may run out by mid-February if the eruption continues and new supplies fail to come on time, officials said.
With its near-perfect cone, Mayon has long been popular with climbers and tourists but has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, sometimes violently. The 8,070ft (2,460m) volcano has generated tourism revenues and jobs in Albay, about 210 miles (340km) south-east of Manila.
In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers who had ventured near the summit despite warnings. Its most destructive eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried the town of Cagsawa in volcanic mud. The belfry of Cagsawa’s stone church still juts from the ground in an eerie reminder of Mayon’s fury.
The Philippines, which has about 22 active volcanoes, lies in the “Ring of Fire,” a line of seismic faults surrounding the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.