(UPDATE) MOUNT MAYON, already restive for the past few days, is showing signs that it could be primed for a “hazardous” eruption soon, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said on Friday.
As a precaution, authorities have begun evacuating villagers living inside the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ) around the volcano.
The provincial government of Albay has also declared a state of calamity as it prepares for relief operations once a major eruption occurs.
Phivolcs Director Teresito Bacolcol told The Manila Times on Thursday the agency is further assessing the volcano’s behavior before raising the alert status from the present Level 3 to Level 4.
“And under Alert Level 4, there is already what we call hazardous eruption,” Bacolcol said.
He said other factors such as an increase in sulfur dioxide (SO2), higher seismicity and lava fountaining must be considered before the alert level is raised.
He said the possibility of phreatic or steam-driven eruptions “is why we inform the public not to venture inside the 6-kilometer PDZ.”
In Legazpi City, Dr. Paul Karson Alanis, Phivolcs’ resident volcanologist chief in Bicol, said the series of earthquakes in Masbate, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte recently could also point to increased volcano activity.
Alanis told a meeting of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (RDRRMC) and Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council meeting in Legazpi on Thursday that aside from the earthquakes, the new magma buildup on Mayon’s upper slopes could also be an indication of further restiveness.
“We need to prepare because of Pyroclastic Density Currents (PDC)” have been observed on Mayon, Alanis said. PDCs are streams of superheated ash spewed by the volcano.
He said that debris from the 2018 eruption continues to create rockfalls.
“It’s just accumulating a force for a magmatic explosion,” Alanis said of Mayon’s surge of activity.
He said there were also rockfalls and earthquakes that preceded the major eruptions in 2018 and 2014.
Level 3 was raised on June 8 after lava was observed at the summit, triggering rockfalls and PDCs.
Bacolcol said the conditions indicate that magma continues to rise and make its way from deep inside the volcano to the crater at an increasing rate.
Phivolcs recorded 267 rockfalls and two volcanic earthquakes from June 5 to 8, compared to the 54 rockfalls from June 1 to 4, 2023.
Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid flying close to the volcano’s summit since ash from a sudden eruption can be dangerous to aircraft, Phivolcs said.
Over 18,000 residents within the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone will be evacuated on Friday.
At least 50 barangay in the towns of Camalig, Daraga, Sto. Domingo, Guinobatan, Malilipot and the cities of Tabaco and Ligao are expected to be affected if Mayon erupts.
Albay Gov. Greco Lagman said the province has a P30 million calamity fund that could be used for a Mayon eruption response.
Dr. Pancho Mella, chief of provincial veterinary services, said at least 10,000 farm animals will be evacuated to the Albay Parks and Wildlife grounds.
The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said it is deploying 18 trucks and more than 30 personnel to Albay.
Among the assets deployed by the PRC are four water tankers with five water bladders, two water filtration units and tap stands, four food trucks, two multipurpose vans with health supplies, three trucks with 2,500 sleeping kits and hygiene kits, and trucks carrying 2,500 jerry cans from PRC’s Metro Manila and Subic warehouses, and PRC’s Batangas Chapter.
In an interview during the deployment ceremony at PRC’s Logistics and Multipurpose Center in Mandaluyong City, PRC Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang said the assets will be fielded to eight towns around Mayon.
Pang said the humanitarian organization was requested by the provincial government to assist in extracting residents from the permanent danger zones.
“We have been there in previous eruptions…. We are very much prepared. Our team there knows what to do,” Pang said.
PRC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Gordon added that it is much better to be “over prepared” in times of crisis such as the Mayon eruption.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Rex Gatchalian assured Albay officials on Friday that the DSWD Bicol office has been “aggressively managing the situation” in anticipation of an eruption.
The DSWD plans to preposition 102,000 family food packs (FFPs) in warehouses close to the areas that have been impacted by past Mayon eruptions.
Guinobatan and Camalig have the highest number of evacuees, based on data from the 2018 eruption as well as predictive analysis.
Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman said his office has worked alongside the DSWD, Governor Lagman, Tabaco City Mayor Krisel Lagman, and the five mayors in his district in preparation for an eruption.
“Food packs and other relief items are now prepositioned for the eventual calamity,” Lagman said.
Albay Second District Rep. Joey Salceda thanked the DSWD for promptly fulfilling his request for food packs for 9,829 families in Camalig, Daraga, Guinobatan, Santo Domingo, and Malilipot, which are within the 6-kilometer and 7-kilometer danger zones.
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) has directed its offices in Bicol and Calabarzon to heighten their monitoring and close coordination with local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils and support agencies to ensure the safety of the communities around Mayon and Taal Volcano in Batangas, which has also shown signs of restiveness.
Civil Defense Administrator and National DRRMC Executive Director Undersecretary Ariel Nepomuceno said on Friday his staff is coordinating with the Phivolcs and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health for interventions that need to be implemented.
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