Philippines prepares for three-month-long volcano emergency

Mount Mayon during a new eruption in Legazpi, the Philippines, on Jan 25. PHOTO: REUTERS

LEGAZPI CITY (REUTERS) - The Philippines is bracing for a possible three-month-long emergency in areas around an erupting volcano, which has already displaced more than 81,000 and caused overcrowding at temporary shelters, the country's disaster agency said on Friday (Jan 26).

Mount Mayon in central Albay province remained at alert level 4, a notch below the highest level, as it continued to spew out lava, ash and other superheated material, volcanologists said.

"We're gearing up for three months" of emergency, said Ms Romina Marasigan, spokesman for the South-east Asian country's disaster agency, citing similar situations during previous eruptions of the 2,462m-high volcano.

Displaced families may need to stay in evacuation centres for that long, she said.

Food and other supplies remain adequate but concerns are growing over health and hygiene conditions at all the 69 temporary shelters away from the danger zone.

Respiratory illnesses are possible because of the series of ash falls, she said.

"We remain on red alert," Ms Marasigan told a media briefing, adding that 69,672 evacuees were housed in schools while nearly 12,000 took shelter in tents or went to relatives in more secure locations.

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Just one notch below the highest level of 5 after days of 'intense but sporadic lava fountaining' and almost regular ash eruptions more than 75,500 residents have fled their homes.

Health workers are giving free check-ups and medicine to elderly women and children in evacuation centres, but there are not enough toilets.

"The province is doing everything to close the gaps for these toilet facilities," said Nestor Santiago, assistant secretary at the health ministry.

The number of cancelled flights has risen to 97, the disaster agency said.

Volcanologists said there were seven more episodes of intense but sporadic lava fountaining at the crater lasting several minutes during a 21-hour period from Thursday morning.

The lava fountains, shooting up between 150m and 500m, generated ash plumes that spurted as high as 3km above the crater, they said.

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