Mayon volcano eruption: Almost 70,000 in overcrowded shelters

Filipino children at a temporary shelter after they were evacuated because of the volcanic activity at Mayon, on Jan 28, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - Tens of thousands of evacuees displaced by the eruption of Philippines' Mount Mayon are filling up dozens of temporary shelters, with concerns mounting over congestion, poor sanitation, and livelihood.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday (Jan 29) visited Legazpi city in Albay province, just a few kilometres from the volcano, to assure local officials he will address all their concerns by next week.

He also provided an initial 50 million pesos ($1.3 million) for the evacuees' needs.

Mr Ricardo Jalad, administrator of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said at a briefing for Mr Duterte that over 81,000 persons have been evacuated.

Some 69,400 have fled to 78 evacuation centres. The rest are staying with their kin.

The 2,460m-tall Mount Mayon, popular for its symmetry and classic cone, has been generating giant cauliflower clouds of superheated ash rising 4.8km in height, and bursts of fireworks-like lava for nearly two weeks.

Albay Governor Francis Bichara told Mr Duterte evacuation centres were already bursting at the seams and that some people were sneaking back inside the 8km danger zone.

"The ration of the number of evacuees per room should be one to 50. But we've exceeded that. We are now at one to 200," he said.

He said this congestion is causing health problems and aggravating sanitation woes at the shelters.

"We lack 1,222 toilets," said Mr Bichara.

He added: "We're just glad that there has been no injury, no casualty. But it is costing us a lot."

Mr Duterte responded by handing over a cheque from the local gaming commission for 20 million pesos, and promising to issue another 30 million pesos on Jan 30.

He also said he would order more portable toilets from the capital Manila, and have the military transport these to the evacuation centres.

"We will try to send as many as we can gather," he said.

Experts have warned the worst is yet to come.

Mr Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said the worst-case scenario would be for a white-hot cocktail of gas and volcanic debris to streak down up to 7km from the crater, as what happened in 1984.

Then, there would be the resulting lahar - mud made up of soil and ash - that would have a long-term and wider impact.

He said Mount Mayon could still expel over 50 million cubic m of magma.

"If the crater is plugged, then gases will accumulate, and there will be enough gas to explode the magma. There will be very tall eruption columns, or magma can move very fast. We don't want that, but we can't rule it out," said Mr Solidum.

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