The Mayon volcano in the Philippines spews lava as locals prepare to evacuate in the event of an explosion
The Philippines’ most active volcano gently spewed lava down its slopes on Monday, alerting tens of thousands of people to flee a powerful and life-threatening explosion.
Since the increase in volcanic activity last week, more than 12,600 people have evacuated the mostly poor farming communities within 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of the crater of the Mayon volcano. But thousands more remain in the permanent danger zone below Mayon, an area that has long been off-limits to humans but where generations have lived and farmed because they have nowhere else to go.
As the volcano began erupting lava Sunday night, Mayon’s high-risk zone could be expanded should the eruption become violent, said Teresito Bacolcol, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Bacolcol said if that happens, people in any extended danger zone should be prepared to evacuate to emergency shelters.
“What we’re seeing now is an exuberant eruption,” Bacolcol told The Associated Press. “We deal with it every day.”
From a distance, Associated Press journalists watched for hours Sunday night as lava flowed down the volcano’s southeastern canyons. In a coastal neighborhood of Legazpi, the capital of northeastern Albay province, about 14 kilometers (8.5 miles) from Mayon, people rushed out of restaurants and bars and snapped photos of the volcano, which is a popular tourist magnet for its picturesque conical shape.
A state of emergency was declared in Albay on Friday to allow for faster distribution of disaster relief funds in the event of a major outbreak.
The volcano was raised to alert level three on Thursday, following a five-tier system to warn that the volcano is in a state of great agitation and a dangerous eruption is possible in weeks or days.
As the lava slowly flows down the volcano, Bacolcol said the alert level remains at three, but it could be raised higher if the eruption becomes dangerous.
A top five alert would mean a violent and life-threatening eruption is underway, with plumes of ash shooting skyward and superheated pyroclastic flows threatening more communities in the lush Mayon foothills.
Mayon is one of 24 active volcanoes in the Philippines. Most recently, a violent outbreak occurred in 2018, displacing tens of thousands of villagers. In 1814, the Mayon eruption buried entire villages and reportedly claimed more than 1,000 lives.
However, many people in Albay have accepted the volcano’s sporadic violence as a part of their lives.
Crowds jogged, biked and walked their dogs on a seafront promenade in Legazpi on Sunday morning. The 2,462 meter high volcano lay hidden in dense clouds some distance away.
Some locals have made their fortunes from the tourism industry, which has sprung from mayon or the gravel, sand and ornamental stones and boulders that abound around the volcano.
Inside the permanent danger zone, authorities and villagers Sunday moved cows and water buffalo from high-risk farms to temporary grazing areas a safe distance away.
“Not only should people be kept safe, but their livestock should be kept safe, too,” Albay provincial veterinarian Manny Victorino told the AP. He said authorities would take steps to avoid major economic impacts in the event of a volcanic eruption.
They administered dewormers and vitamins and punched dog tags into the ears of several cows and buffalo for better surveillance.
The cattle evacuations highlight the potential threat of natural disasters in the Philippines.
Hit by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year, the archipelago lies on what is known as the 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 peak in one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds.