BONGA, Philippines — Thousands of people who fled their homes in the central Philippines to escape a restive volcano have to contend with another threat that’s complicating the ongoing evacuations: monsoon rains that could be unleashed by an approaching typhoon.
More than 6,000 villagers have been forced to leave rural communities within a 6-kilometer (3. 7-mile) radius of Mayon volcano’s crater in northeastern Albay province. Officials said that thousands more people may need to leave the danger zone permanently.
Others who live outside of the perimeter of danger have packed up their bags, and left willingly with their kids for evacuation centres in Albay. The province was declared a calamity Friday in order to facilitate the rapid distribution of emergency funds if a large eruption occurs.
Authorities raised the alert level for the volcano on Thursday after superheated streams of gas, debris and rocks cascaded down its upper slope, indicating activity below the surface that could precede a hazardous eruption within days or weeks.
A key tourist draw for its picturesque conical shape, the 2,462-meter (8,077-feet) Mayon is one of the country’s most active volcanoes. It last erupted violently in 2018, displacing tens of thousands of villagers.
Authorities warned that Typhoon Guchol, which is approaching the Philippines from the Pacific but is projected to skirt the archipelago, may still dump heavy rains — an unwelcome news for those living on Mayon’s slopes.
“There’s a typhoon and floodwaters may rush down Mayon and swamp this village. That’s one of our fears,” Villamor Lopez, a house painter, told The Associated Press.
He sat anxiously on the pickup truck with his family, clinging onto their bags of clothing, rice pouches and water bottles. The vehicle was transporting villages from Daraga in Albay to a shelter for emergency several kilometers away.
Other residents chatted on a roadside near a chapel, still undecided whether to leave.
A loudspeaker in their laid-back community of low-slung rural houses and narrow dirt alleys warned people to prepare to evacuate anytime if the situation worsens. The volcano was hidden in the thick clouds of rain that covered the sky.
Village leader Dennis Bon, who was preparing to drive Lopez and others to the shelter, said he would not risk waiting until the last minute.
“We have children, persons with disabilities and elderly residents here,” Bon said, before he drove off.
Albay Gov. Edcel Greco Lagman and Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian said they were prepared if monsoon rains triggered mudflows and rockfalls.
“We will still make sure that we will have no casualties from any compounded calamities,” Lagman said.
The Philippines is located along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the region around the ocean’s rim, where tectonic plate meets. This area can be prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. A long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.
Associated Press journalist Aaron Favila contributed to this report.
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