Philippines raises alert level at Mayon volcano

Mount Mayon erupting in Legazpi City, Philippines, on Saturday in this still obtained from social media. More than 900 families were ordered to evacuate from villages near the volcano, a tourist attraction in Albay province.
Mount Mayon erupting in Legazpi City, Philippines, on Saturday in this still obtained from social media. More than 900 families were ordered to evacuate from villages near the volcano, a tourist attraction in Albay province.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA • The Philippines has raised the alert level at its restive Mayon volcano for the second time in less than 24 hours, from "increasing unrest" to "increased tendency towards eruption" within weeks or even days.

"This means that Mayon is exhibiting relatively high unrest and that magma is at the crater and that hazardous eruption is possible within weeks or even days," the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in its latest advisory yesterday.

After three phreatic or steam-driven eruptions and 158 rockfall events between 4.21pm on Saturday local time and 7.25pm yesterday, Phivolcs said Mayon's summit crater "is now exhibiting bright crater glow that signifies the growth of a new lava dome and beginnings of lava flow towards the southern slopes".

Already, the authorities have ordered the evacuation of residents within the 6km radius permanent danger zone and a 7km extended danger zone on the southern flank due to the danger of rockfalls, landslides and sudden explosions or dome collapse that may generate hazardous volcanic flows.

More than 900 families were ordered to evacuate from villages near the volcano, a tourist attraction in Albay province because of its near-perfect cone shape. The volcano is more than 300km south-east of the Philippine capital of Manila.

Mayon's most destructive eruption was in February 1841, when lava flows buried a town and killed 1,200 people. It last erupted in 2014, spewing lava and forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

"The public is strongly advised to be vigilant and desist from entering the 6km radius permanent danger zone to minimise risks from sudden explosions, rockfall and landslides," Phivolcs said.

It also advised people experiencing ashfall to cover their noses and mouths with a damp, clean cloth or dust mask. It added that aircraft must avoid flying close to the volcano's summit.

Those within the slope of the volcano but outside the 6km danger zone were told to take precautionary measures against possible roof collapses due to accumulated ash and rainwater.

Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum said the volcano appeared due for another eruption as it has been displaying abnormal behaviour since late last year.

Separately, thousands of residents of an island near a Papua New Guinea (PNG) volcano have been evacuated after escalating eruptions triggered fears of a possible landslide and tsunami, the authorities and reports said yesterday.

The previously dormant volcano, more than 500m high, on the northern island of Kadovar off PNG, erupted on Jan 5 with all 600 residents evacuated. But volcanic activity significantly escalated in recent days, culminating in a big blast last Friday, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO) said.

"The rocks were glowing red... previous to this blast, it was observed that the fracture, which was apparent in the initial aerial photos, running from the summit dome down to the coast, had apparently widened," the RVO said.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill warned yesterday of a possible tsunami. "The terrain around the (Kadovar) volcano is very steep, so this increases the risk of a large landslide that could trigger a tsunami," he said, referring to the danger of landmass entering water at a high speed.

Mr O'Neill added that flights had been cancelled and all ships and boats not involved with the evacuation effort were to keep clear of the area.

XINHUA, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline 'Philippines raises alert level at Mayon volcano'. Print Edition | Subscribe