Mayon’s ‘beauty and fury’ draws tourists; Albay under state of calamity

Published January 17, 2018, 12:10 AM

by Mr. Fu


Legazpi, Albay – Glowing red lava rolled down the slopes of Mount Mayon Volcano Tuesday morning as authorities maintained a warning of a possible hazardous eruption.

“Lava flow on the Miisi Gully has presently advanced to approximately two kilometers from the crater, while shorter volume of lava flows have been emplaced on the upper slopes of the Bonga Gully,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.

SMOULDERING TENTACLES – Glowing red lava flows down the southwest slope of Mayon Volcano Monday night. Albay was placed under a state of calamity yesterday as Mayon continued to be restive. (Ali Vicoy)
SMOULDERING TENTACLES – Glowing red lava flows down the southwest slope of Mayon Volcano Monday night. Albay was placed under a state of calamity yesterday as Mayon continued to be restive. (Ali Vicoy)

Because of Mayon’s restiveness, Albay has been placed under a state of calamity.

Nearly 15,000 people have fled the danger zone within 6 to 7 kilometers of Mayon, and Phivolcs strongly advised people not to re-enter the area.

Several small pyroclastic flows were generated by fragments in the lava streams and not by an explosion from the crater vent, like in Mount Pinatubo, Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum said.  Pyroclastic flows are superheated gas and volcanic debris that can race down slopes and incinerate everything in their path, and are feared in a major eruption.

“The pyroclastic flows, there were several, were not generated by an explosion from the crater with lava, molten rocks and steam, shooting up the volcano then rolling down,” Solidum said. “These were generated by lava fragments breaking off from the lava flow in the upper slopes.”

He also said Mayon has not seen enough volcanic earthquakes of the type that would prompt scientists to raise the alert level to four, which would indicate an imminent explosive eruption. After steam explosions Saturday and lava rising in the crater on Sunday, the alert was raised to three on a scale of five, indicating a hazardous eruption is possible “within weeks or even days.”

Classes suspended

As thousands flee to safety, the spectacular lava “fireworks” shooting from its crater has drawn tourists.Hotels reported getting more tourist bookings while people flocked to viewing decks to watch the volcano from a distance.

“It’s a spectacle to watch. It’s beauty and fury in one, especially at night. But it’s a natural phenomenon so we don’t know when an (explosive) eruption will happen,” Danny Garcia, a spokesperson of Albay province said.

Mayon, a near-perfect cone that also draws thousands of tourists during its periods of quiet, rises 2,460 metres (8,070 feet) above Legazpi, a city of about 200,000 people surrounded by a largely agricultural region.

“If lava has enough gas and material, fragments will be flown up into the air, like the fountain you light up on New Year’s Eve,” Solidumtold AFP.

“There is more force involved when the lava would exit so it’s more intense than just the lava oozing out.”

According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), 4,134 families (16,887 persons) are staying in 18 evacuation centers, while the rest are staying with relatives in Daraga town.

DSWD’s field office in Bicol Region has provided P124,605 worth of assistance to the local government of Malilipot and is awaiting the request of other local government units (LGUs) for augmentation support.

DSWD OIC Secretary Emmanuel Leyco assured the public that there is sufficient food and non-food assistance, which can be immediately released once needed.

He appealed to the affected residents to follow orders of local authorities for their own safety.

Classes were suspended in the towns of Guinobatan, Camalig, Sto, Domingo and Tabaco City to allow the use of schools as temporary shelters for displaced residents.

Meanwhile, Chief Insp. Arthur Gomez, spokesperson of the Albay Provincial Police Office said an 81-year-old man died in the evacuation center.  The victim, Teodolo Precia reportedly died of  old age.  He was among 350 evacuees at the Mayon Elementary School from Barangay Buang in Tabaco City, one of the barangays affected by ash fall.

Local governments are tapping emergency funds and working to ensure clean water supply, officials said.

Alternate routes

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has identified alternate  routes in case of a worst scenario in the province of Albay. If the lahar or ash fall is at the southeast of the volcano affecting the Legazpi-Sto Domingo-Tabaco Road, the Tabaco-Ligao National Secondary Road will be the alternate route.

Vehicles from Manila to Legazpi City and Sorsogon can take the Camalig-Comun-Gapo-Peñafrancia National Secondary Road if the Camalig Section of Daang Maharlika Highway (south of Mayon) is affected.

Travelers from Manila to Legazpi and Sorsogon, the Ligao-Tabaco Road will be the alternate route for the Guinobatan Section of Daang Maharlika Highway if volcanic ash reaches Guinobatan area, DPWH said.

The alternate routes were identified to prevent isolation of municipalities highly vulnerable to ash plume and volcanic mudflows (lahar), the DPWH said in its advisory.

DPWH Region 5 Director Danilo E. Versola said district engineers of the three DPWH District Engineering Offices in the Province of Albay were directed to closely monitor national road network and river channels in their jurisdiction that may be affected by the rapid lava flowing down the slopes of Mayon volcano.

Heavy equipment and service vehicle are already pre-positioned to provide timely response for road clearing operations, movement of people to evacuation and other safe places, and relief distribution.

Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon asked the faithful in his diocese to remain calm and pray. (with reports from Ellalyn  de Vera-Ruiz, Nino N. Luces, Danny Estacio, Francis Wakefield, Aaron Recuenco, Leslie Ann G. Aquino and Betheena Unite)