LEGAZPI, Philippines — The Philippines’ most active volcano was gently spewing lava down its slopes Monday, alerting tens of thousands of people they may have to quickly flee a violent and life-threatening explosion.
More than 12,600 people have left the mostly poor farming communities within a 6-kilometer (3. 7-mile) radius of Mayon Volcano’s crater in mandatory evacuations since volcanic activity increased last week. The permanent danger zone beneath Mayon is still home to thousands of people who have been living and farming in the area for generations, despite it being declared off limits to humans.
With the volcano starting to emit lava on Sunday night, Teresito Bácolcol, Director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, warned that the risk zone surrounding Mayon could be increased if the eruption becomes violent. Bacolcol warned that if this happens, residents in the expanded danger zones should prepare to leave for emergency shelters.
“What we are seeing now is an effusive eruption,” Bacolcol told The Associated Press. “We are looking at this on a day-to-day basis.”
From a distance, Associated Press journalists watched lava flow down the volcano’s southeastern gullies for hours Sunday night. People hurriedly stepped out of restaurants and bars in a seaside district of Legazpi, the capital of northeastern Albay province about 14 kilometers (8. 5 miles) from Mayon, many of them snapping pictures of the volcano that’s a popular tourist draw known for its picturesque conical shape.
Albay declared a state-of-emergency Friday in order to distribute disaster relief money faster should a large eruption occur.
The alert level of the volcano on a 5-step system was raised Thursday to three, warning it is in an unrest state and that a dangerous eruption could occur in weeks or even days.
With lava flowing down from the volcano gently, Bacolcol said the alert level would stay at three but it could be moved up higher if the eruption turns perilous.
The highest alert, level five, would mean a violent and life-threatening eruption is underway with ash plumes shooting into the sky and superheated pyroclastic streams endangering more communities at Mayon’s lush foothills.
Mayon is one of 24 active volcanoes in the Philippines. 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.
Many of Albay’s people, however, have accepted the volcano’s sporadic fury as part of their lives.
On Sunday morning, throngs of people jogged, biked and walked their dogs in a seaside promenade in Legazpi. The 2,462-meter (8,077-foot) volcano lay hidden in thick clouds at a distance.
Some locals have grown wealthy from the tourism industry that has sprung from Mayon or the gravel, sand and ornamental rocks and boulders found around the volcano in abundance.
Inside the permanent danger zone, authorities and villagers on Sunday were moving cows and water buffaloes from the high-risk farms to temporary grazing areas a safe distance away.
“It is not just people who should be moved to safety, but also their farm animals,” Albay Provincial Veterinarian Manny Victorino said to AP. The authorities are taking measures to prevent a greater economic impact in the event of a volcano eruption, he said.
They gave deworming medicine and vitamins and punched identifying tags onto the ears of several cows and buffaloes for better monitoring.
The cattle evacuations highlight the wide range of natural disasters that can strike the Philippines.
The archipelago is lashed by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms a year and is located on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the rim of seismic faults where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.
In 1991, Mount Pinatubo north of Manila blew its top in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds.
Associated Press journalist Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.
Find more of AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific
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