Mayon eruption looms; locals told to leave
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Thursday, June 8, 2023, warned that a “hazardous eruption” of Mayon Volcano could be weeks or days away, prompting the local government of Albay to order the mandatory evacuation of residents inside the 6-kilometer radius permanent danger zone.
Phivolcs said it observed three fast-moving avalanches of volcanic ash, rock, and gases, known as pyroclastic density currents (PDCs), on Mayon’s slopes on Thursday.
There are “increased chances of lava flows and hazardous PDCs … and of potential explosive activity within weeks or even days,” the agency said, raising the alert level from two to three on a scale of zero to five.
Phivolcs recorded a total of 267 rockfall events and two volcanic earthquakes from June 5 to June 8, more than the 54 rockfall events recorded from June 1 to June 4.
Paul Karson Alanis, resident volcanologist at the Phivolcs office in Legazpi City in Albay, said at least three rockfall events generated PDCs on Thursday morning.
“There are continuous rockfall events from the lava dome, the remnants of the 2018 eruption. This 11 a.m. (Thursday), the big rocks that were creeping down the slopes generated PDCs,” Alanis said during an emergency meeting at the Albay capital.
There can be two ways that the “hazardous eruption” may take place, said Phivolcs volcano monitoring head Maria Antonia Bornas.
First would be similar to the 2018 Mayon eruption in which rockfall events progressed into “significant magmatic eruptions with lava flow, lava fountaining and minor explosion events.”
Mayon Volcano last erupted on Jan. 13, 2018, affecting thousands of families from the towns of Guinobatan, Camalig, Daraga, Bacacay, Malilipot and Sto. Domingo, and the cities of Ligao, Legazpi and Tabaco. The volcanic activity that lasted until March of that year led to the declaration of a state of calamity in Albay.
The second one, which Bornas said was more likely to occur, would be an eruption consisting of a continuous lava flow.
“The dome will continue to grow and shed a short lava flow, some rockfall but just that,” Bornas said.
In the latter scenario, the eruption would be similar to what happened in 2014 in which Mayon “very quietly” withdrew lava flow.
President Marcos on Thursday said the government has been closely monitoring the volcanic activities both in Mayon and in Taal, assuring Filipinos that the government was on top of the situation.
Speaking to reporters after an event in Manila, the President noted that Mayon was already “advanced” in terms of volcanic activity.
“If the lava flow starts, that’s when we really have a disaster,” Mr. Marcos said.
Phivolcs urged people residing within the permanent danger zone to immediately evacuate due to the danger of lava flows, rockfalls, and other volcanic hazards.
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) on Thursday afternoon said it conducted preparedness and coordination conferences with other concerned government agencies.
The OCD also reached out to local disaster units in Bicol Region and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) for possible evacuation once the situation worsens.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines also issued a notice barring planes from flying within 10,000 feet above the surface of Mayon.
18,000 must leave
In Legazpi City, the provincial government of Albay ordered the mandatory evacuation of more than 18,000 residents inside the permanent danger zone.
Eugene Escobar, chief of the research division of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (Apsemo), said the evacuation in the towns of Daraga, Malilipot, and Camalig, and the cities of Ligao and Tabaco would start on Friday morning.
As of this month, Apsemo recorded 4,749 families, or 18,184 people, living in 14 villages inside the permanent danger zone.
Escobar said an additional 5,817 families, or 21,717 people, from the 7-kilometer radius would also be evacuated if the activity of the volcano escalates and the alert level is raised to 4, which means a hazardous eruption is imminent.
He added that of the province’s P42-million quick response fund, P30 million would be allocated for the evacuation operation, which might not suffice the needs of the evacuees if Mayon’s restiveness would take long.
All human activities inside the danger zone would likewise be prohibited, including farming and recreational activities.
Camalig Mayor Carlos Irwin Baldo Jr. on Thursday ordered the early dismissal of classes in the villages of Tumpa, Quirangay, and Cabangan, areas inside the 6- to 7-km radius of the volcano.
Baldo, in a statement, also ordered the suspension of quarrying activities within the 7-km radius.
Meanwhile, Guinobatan Mayor Paul Chino Garcia told the Inquirer that they would prioritize the 2,000 individuals living in two villages within their danger zones.
“The shelter and food are ready. The only thing they should do is follow so that [we] will attain the zero casualty [goal],” Garcia stressed.
Lovella Guarin, information officer of the Department of Agriculture in Bicol, said in an interview that they have already prepared the evacuation center for the animals owned by farmers at the Albay Breeding Center in Camalig town.
Pancho Mella, chief of provincial veterinary services, said about 10,000 animals would be evacuated from 42 villages in the danger zone.
Alvin Cuz, the disaster risk reduction and management coordinator of the Department of Education Albay division, said they already identified 39 schools that could be used as evacuation centers, but they would need temporary learning spaces and a shift to blended learning.
“If the schools will be used by the local government units, we need temporary learning spaces for the continuous learning of the students,” Cuz noted.
Office of Civil Defense Bicol Director Claudio Yucot said they would coordinate with some colleges for their buildings to be used as additional evacuation centers.
WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES, MICHAEL B. JAUCIAN, AFP AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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