DARAGA, Philippines — The Philippines’ most active volcano has begun spewing lava in a gentle eruption, putting thousands of people on heightened alert for the possibility of a violent explosion that would force them to suddenly evacuate from their homes, authorities said Monday.
More than 12,000 villagers have left their homes so far in mandatory evacuations from the mostly poor farming communities within a 6-kilometer (3. 7-mile) radius of Mayon volcano’s crater in northeastern Albay province. The evacuations started after last week’s signs that the volcano was showing renewed restlessness.
Authorities cautioned that thousands more remain within the permanent danger zone below Mayon, which has long been declared off limits.
With the volcano starting to expel lava Sunday night, the area around Mayon that is considered high risk may expand if the eruption becomes violent. Teresito Bcolcol, Director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, warned. Bacolcol said if that happens, people in any expanded danger zone should be prepared to evacuate to emergency shelters.
For hours, a group of Associated Press reporters watched the volcano in its southeastern gullies spew lava. People hurriedly stepped out of restaurants and bars in a seaside district of Albay’s capital city of Legazpi, about 14 kilometers (8. 5 miles) from Mayon, many snapping pictures of the country’s most popular volcano.
Albay declared a state-of-emergency on Friday in order to distribute disaster relief money faster should a large eruption occur. On Thursday, authorities raised the alert level for the 2,462-meter (8,077-foot) volcano.
A key tourist draw for its picturesque conical shape, Mayon is one of the country’s 24 active volcanoes. It last erupted violently in 2018, displacing tens of thousands of villagers.
In 1814, Mayon’s eruption buried entire villages and reportedly left more than 1,000 people dead. But many of Albay’s people have accepted the volcano’s sporadic fury as part of their lives.
Aside from villagers living in communities perilously close to the volcano, authorities and villagers began moving large numbers of cows and water buffaloes on Sunday from high-risk farms to 25 temporary grazing area a safe distance away. They’re following more than 12,600 villagers who have moved to emergency shelters since last week, when Mayon began spewing superheated gas and producing heavy ashfall in a sign of a possible major eruption imminent within days or weeks.
“It is not just people who should be evacuated, but also their animals,” Albay Provincial Veterinarian Manny Victorino said to The AP. The authorities are taking measures to prevent a greater economic impact if the volcano were to erupt.
Victorino, his veterinarian team, and the Matnog Village in Daraga Town provided deworming medication, administered vitamin supplements, and punched identification tags on several cows, buffaloes, and other animals for better monitoring.
The cattle evacuations underscore the government’s dilemma in dealing with threats from about two dozen active volcanoes, led by Mayon, spread across the sprawling archipelago. Located in the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the Philippines is also lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms a year, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
On a Sunday morning in Legazpi, people were seen jogging or biking, dancing along to disco and walking their dogs. At a distance, the volcano was hidden by thick clouds.
Violeto Peralta’s painting of Mayon’s explosive eruption was admired by passersby. Passing schoolchildren, he said, would be happy to use his painting as a backdrop for their selfies.
He said that many businesses in the province have grown rich from diverse tourist activities that have sprung from Mayon, including sightseeing tours around the country’s most active volcano.
“We’re not scared of it,” the 76-year-old said. “We’ve learned to live with it.”
Associated Press journalist Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.
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