Forced evacuations around Philippine volcano

AP News
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Posted: Dec 17, 2009 6:35 AM

Security forces will forcibly evacuate thousands of residents reluctant to leave their farms near a smoldering volcano in the Philippines despite fears of a major eruption, officials said.

Authorities in Albay province on Thursday declared a round-the-clock ban on anyone entering with a five-mile (eight-kilometer) danger zone around the Mayon volcano, which is spewing lava and ash.

More than 33,000 of about 47,000 people have been evacuated from the zone this week, after scientists raised a five-stage alert to the third level _ a signal of possible hazardous eruptions within weeks.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said a provincial board has authorized police and soldiers to move out some 2,000 remaining families starting Friday, Salceda said.

He said police will show pictures of victims of a 1993 eruption that killed more than 70 people as they go around villages to "inform (residents) of the risk of staying."

He said many have refused to leave their vegetable farms on the volcano's slopes during the current harvest time.

Chief state volcanologist Renato Solidum said Mayon, the most active of the country's 22 volcanoes, continued to rumble with 82 quakes and eight ash explosions during a 24-hour period ending Thursday morning.

He said sulfur dioxide gas, which the volcano emits during unrest, rose to 2,758 tons from 750 tons during the previous 24-hour period.

Lava continued to trickle down the slope of the 8,070-foot (2,460-meter) mountain Thursday, and two lava domes have formed from rising magma inside the crater, Solidum said. Such domes are formed by piles of lava that have not cascaded down the slopes or been burst by pressure.

Solidum said the domes could grow bigger and plug the crater.

"It can block the passage of gas. So then if the gas is pressurized, then it can explode," he said.

The current activity of the volcano is similar to the initial phases of previous eruptions in 2000, 2001 and 2006, he said.

He said there was a high danger that cascading lava could trigger a pyroclastic flow _ superheated gas and volcanic debris racing down the slopes at very high speed, vaporizing everything in its path.

Salceda said the police and military will block 12 gateways to 56 villages within the danger zone to enforce the round-the-clock curfew on the area, which will remain until scientists lower the volcano alert by one level.

Salceda also said the provincial government has borrowed a helicopter that could fly "nightly patrols" around the volcano.

The evacuees, mostly poor farmers and laborers, will spend Christmas at evacuation centers.

At the Bagumbayan Central School in Legazpi, the provincial capital, Guilly Anonuevo, a 75-year-old veteran of five evacuations, will spend Christmas for the first time in an evacuation center.

"We do not know where we will get our Christmas dinner. We have no money," she said. "It's all right to be sad as long as we are safe from Mayon's eruption."

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Associated Press Writer Oliver Teves contributed to this report.