By Niño Luces, Francis Wakefield and Chito Chavez
Legazpi City, Albay — Alert Level 3 was raised last night over Mayon Volcano in Albay after its phreatic eruption Saturday was followed by at least two steam-driven ash explosions yesterday morning, forcing the evacuation of 919 families in at least 16 barangays.
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Director Renato Solidum said Mayon first spewed an ash column about 2.5-3 kilometers above the crater at 5:06 p.m. Saturday and then emitted a trail of grayish ash and steam at 8:49 a.m. Sunday that drifted southwest towards the town of Camalig.
Phivolcs recorded a third phreatic eruption at 11:43 a.m. yesterday.
Phivolcs research specialist Gerald Malipot said there was no immediate information on whether the latest phreatic or steam-driven eruption produced a bigger ash cloud than the first ash explosion.
Due to thick clouds, the crater and ash column were not visible but Phivolcs confirmed the column of ash went in the southwest direction.
But just within 24 hours of raising Alert Level 2 over Mayon, Phivolcs announced around 9 p.m. Sunday that the volcano was already placed under Alert Level 3.
Earlier in the day, Phivolcs observed that the cause of the restiveness could be magmatic which may lead “to more phreatic eruptions or eventually to hazardous magmatic eruptions.”
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Spokesperson Romina Marasigan said most of the 919 families evacuated were temporarily sheltered at schools in Camalig and Guinobatan.
Mayflor Jumamil, Department of Education (DepEd) Bicol spokesperson, said there were seven schools used as evacuation centers – three in Camalig and four in Guinobatan.
She said that as of 4 p.m. of Sunday, 68 classrooms were used as evacuation centers, occupied by 919 families; 3,149 individuals and 1,933 of it are students or learners. She added that 50 personnel of the schools were also affected by the ash fall.
Dr. Cedric Daep, Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) chief, told The Manila Bulletin that the number of evacuees came from villages mostly affected by ash fall.
Daep said that under an Alert Level 3, the evacuation of residents within the six-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) becomes mandatory although preemptive evacuation was set in motion even before Alert Level 2 was raised.
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) warned the public not to roam within the eight-kilometer radius of the volcano, where sudden explosions, rockfalls and landslides could occur.
The residents including those in adjacent towns were asked to avoid inhaling volcanic ash by covering their noses with wet towels and shutting windows.
Daep said residents of 16 barangays in two cities and four municipalities were evacuated as early as Saturday.
These were the villages of Miisi, Bañadero and Matnog in town of Daraga; Anoling, Quirangay, Tumpa, Sua and Tinubran in Camalig town; Tandarora and Maninila in Guinobatan town; Baligang and Amtic in Ligao City; Magapo and Buang in Tabaco City and Canaway and Calbayog in Malilipot town.
In the wake of the phreatic eruption of Mayon, Malacañang has appealed to the public to cooperate with authorities to ensure their safety.
“We call on the people directly affected by the eruption of Mt Mayon to cooperate with their respective LGUs (local government units) in order for us to avoid injuries or casualties,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.
NDRRMC Executive Director Ricardo Jalad assured that disaster relief officials and local government executives are “on top of the situation in Bicol.”
“They have implementable evacuation plan which is not yet necessary as of now,” Jalad said in a message relayed by Andanar to the media.
Face masks were also distributed to the affected population of the activity.
Mayon’s most destructive eruption occurred in February, 1841 where lava flows buried a town leaving 1,200 people dead. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)