MAYON VOLCANO

MAYON

Mt. Mayon (near Legazpi City in far southern Luzon, 340 kilometers southeast of Manila) is a very active volcano with one of the most perfectly formed cones in world. Rising from the sea at the Albay Gulf, it rumbled, pumped out lava and spewed ash periodically in 1998 and 1999 and 2004. Occasionally the crater glows orange and ejects large amount of lava, gases and smoke. Mayon is the most famous active volcano in the Philippines. It is a perfect stratovolcano and it erupts very frequently.

Mayon volcano is 2462 meter-high (8,077 foot-high). It erupted at least 40 times since 1616. An eruption in 1814 killed 1,200 people and buried an entire town. In one place you can see a church steeple and a few roofs from a town buried under volcanic debris from this eruption. Mayon has the potential, volcanologist say to produce a catastrophic Krakatau-like eruption that could kill thousands of people and eject enough material into the stratosphere and reduce temperatures around the globe.

Mayon erupted in suddenly in February 1993, killing at least 78 people and forcing an evacuation of an area within a ten mile radius of the mountain. Most of the dead were consumed by pyroclastic flows. In February 2000, lava and pyroclastic flows were seen coming down its eastern slopes. All people within a eight kilometer radius—about 80,000 villagers—were ordered to evacuate. Most people left but some farmers remained so they could cultivate the rich volcanic soil.

In June 2001, more than 25,000 people fled their homes as a mushroom-shaped gray clouds of rock, lava, and ash poured from the crater. Sounds like thunder were heard; house-size rocks were ejected and material was sent 13 kilometers into the atmosphere; lava flowed five kilometers from the crater; and ash buried towns 10 kilometers to the southeast. Military trucks were called in to help evacuate people from an area within eight kilometers southeast of the crater deemed to be “in great danger” from pyroclastic flows, volcanic blasts and ground surges. One man died in the evacuation but no one died directly from the eruption.

The closest town to Mt. Mayon is Cagawa, which is 16 kilometers away from the volcano's base. When the volcano is not so volatile it is possible to climb to the crater in two or three days. The north side of the mountain is lush and dotted with plantations. The south side of the mountain is a dead zone of ashy ravines and gullies. The name Mayon is derived from the Bico word magayon, which means beautiful.

According to volcanodiscovery.com: “Mayon is the archetype of a symmetrical stratovolcano and one of the world most active ones. It has frequent eruptions producing pyroclastic flows, mud flows and ash falls that repeatedly triggered large-scale evacuations. Mayon's most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1200 people and devastated several towns. Mayon has very steep upper slopes averaging 35-40 degrees capped by a small summit crater. [Source: volcanodiscovery.com]

Mayon Eruptions

Historical records of eruptions date back to 1616 and range from strombolian to basaltic plinian, with cyclical activity beginning with basaltic eruptions, followed by longer term andesitic lava flows. Eruptions occur predominately from the central conduit and have also produced lava flows that travel far down the flanks. Pyroclastic flows and mudflows have commonly swept down many of the approximately 40 ravines that radiate from the summit and have often devastated populated lowland areas. [Source: volcanodiscovery.com]

Mayon has erupted at least 50 times in the 390-year period between 1616 and 2013, according to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).Mayon’s last eruption was from July 2009 to January 2010. Tens of thousands of local residents were forced to evacuate, but with no casualties were recorded. Mayon volcano eruptions: 1616, 1766, 1800, 1811(?), 1814, 1827, 1834, 1839, 1845, 1846, 1851, 1853, 1855, 1857, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861, 1862, 1863(?), 1868, 1871-72, 1872, 1873, 1876, 1876, 1881-82, 1885, 1886-87, 1888, 1890, 1891-92, 1893, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1900, 1902(?), 1928, 1928, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1968, 1978, 1984, 1993, 1999-2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009.

The first eruption to be described at length occurred in July 1766 when Mayon acted up for six days. According to Phivolcs: The "most destructive eruption" of Mayon on record was in 1814 (See Below). The second most destructive eruption of Mayon occurred between June 4 and July 23, 1897, when pyroclastic flows damaged the seashore of Sto. Domingo and barrios of Sto. Nino, San Isidro, San Roque, San Antonio, Misericordia in Sto. Domingo town; Ligao; parts of Bigaa, San Fernando and Legazpi. A lava flow affected the Basud River in Sto. Domingo and Camalig. There were at least 350 casualties, "most likely due to pyroclastic flows," Phivolcs said. Phivolcs added this was "next to the 1814 eruption in destructiveness," adding the violent phase lasted 17 hours. [Source: gmanetwork.com, May 7, 2013]

From February 2 to April 4, 1993, 77 were killed and five injured as pyroclastic flow affected Mabinit and Bonga; ashfall affected Camalig. Sto. Domingo and Legazpi; and lava flow and lahar were confined to gullies. Most of those who perished had refused to leave the danger zone, preferring to stay and protect their crops, livestock, and other possessions from looters.

Other notable Mayon eruptions 1) July 20-24, 1766: Pyroclastic and lava flows towards east. Malinao was destroyed, while Cagsaua, Guinobatan, Budiao, Polangui, and Ligao recorded major damage. At least 39 were listed as casualties. 2) January 21, 1845: Vulcanian, ashfall, lava flow in 15- to 30-minute eruption. Ashfall over Camalig, Guinobatan and Ligao. 3) May 11, 1846: Vulcanian, pyroclastic flows, ashfall, lahar, with 12 cm of ash falling over Camalig. 4) July 7, 1853: Vulcanian, ashfall, pyroclastic flow, lahar affecting Camalig, Guinobatan, Ligao, Oas, Polangui, Malilipot, Cagsaua in Albay. There were 34 casualties.

5) January 1858: Strombolian, lava flow, lahar; intial lava fountaining lasted until December. 6) December 8, 1871 to January 1872: Albay, Legazpi, Camalig, Guinobatan. Three casualties. 7) January 8 to February 1947: lava flows affected Sto. Domingo, Calbayog and Malilipot. Pyroclastic flow affected San Vicente and Malilipot. Ashfall brought ankle-deep ash to Masarawag and Guinobatan. 8) April 20 to May 20, 1968: Pyroclastic flow affected Tinobran, Quirangay, Miisi, and Bonga. Lava flow affected Camalig. Ashfall affected Camalig, Guinobatan and Legazpi. 9) May 3 to July 4, 1978: Lava emission lasted until July 4. 10) September 9 to October 1984: Pyroclastic flow affected southeast and east of Mayon, Bonga, and Sto. Domingo. Lava flow affected Camalig. Ashfall affected Sto. Domingo and parts of Legazpi.

Phivolcs said a series of ash explosions occurred on Jan. 31, March 17, April 5, and May 6 and 14 in 2003, which it described as precursors to Mayon's activity in 2006. At the time, there was also an intermittent faint crater glow. On July 14, 2006, Phivolcs recorded lava flow and ash explosions as high as 800 meters from Mayon.

Even if Mayon erupts without immediate loss of life, danger may persist. After the 2006 eruption, people returned to their homes around the volcano. A typhoon then dislodged tons of volcanic debris deposited on the slopes, causing landslides that killed an estimated 1,000 residents

Mayon Eruption of 1814

According to Phivolcs the "most destructive eruption" of Mayon on record” occured in February on Feb. 1, 1814, when it erupted with "plinian, pyroclastic flows" and "volcanic lightning and lahar." Named after the Greek historian Pliny the Younger —who described the violent and spectacular destruction of Pompeii by Vesuvius' eruption in AD 79— so-called Plinian eruptions are notable for their outpouring of hot gas, volcanic ash, and occasional pyroclastic flows. In Mayon's Plinian eruption of 1814, some 1,200 deaths were reported, and Camalig, Cagsaua, Budiao, Guinobatan and half of Albay were damaged. [Source: gmanetwork.com, May 7, 2013]

One of the report of event s translated in volume 51 of “Blair and Robertson” goes: “On February 1, 1814, a fearful eruption occurred in the volcano Mayon, which partially or wholly destroyed many villages in Albay and Camarines; hot stones, sand, and ashes were poured forth from the crater, and villages were thus set on fire, and their inhabitants killed. The slain numbered 12,000, besides many more seriously injured; and those who escaped lost all their possessions. The most fertile and beautiful districts of Camarines were converted into a desert of sand.” [Source: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 7th, 2013]

“Reisen in den Philippinen,” which was first published in Berlin in 1873 and translated from the original German to Spanish and English in 1875, was written by Fedor Jagor, who travelled in southern Luzon. In a chapter on Mayon, he describes the February 1814 eruption, drawn from eyewitnesses. It goes: “At about 8 o’clock that morning, the volcano suddenly belched forth a thick column of rocks, sand and ashes which rapidly rose to a great height… the slopes of the volcano were covered and disappeared from our sight. A river of fire appeared below, threatening to engulf us. People fled in search of higher land. The darkness increased… the fugitives were subjected to falling rocks…. There was no security in the houses because the heated rocks caused fire. Thus were converted into ashes the richest towns of Camarines.

“About 10 o’clock the rain of large stones ceased, substituted by a rain of sand; and (by) 1:30 the noise somewhat diminished and the sky began clearing up. The ground was covered with cadavers and the seriously wounded; in the church of Budiao were 200 persons and in a house of that same town were 35 people. Five towns of Camarines were completely destroyed and the major part of the villa of Albay. Some 12,000 people died, very many were seriously wounded, and those who survived lost all their property. The volcano had a sad and horrendous aspect; its slopes previously so picturesque and cultivated, could be seen covered with sand; the blanket of rocks and sand had a thickness of from 10 to 12 yards. In the area where Budiao was located, the coconut trees were buried up to their crown…The most beautiful parts of Camarines, the most fertile regions of the province, had been converted into an arid desert of sand.”

Fabulousphilippines.com reported: “After a number of seismic shocks, a thick column of stones, sand and ash shot high into the air. The sides of the mountain were hidden by veils of ash, smoke and vapour. A fiery stream of lava dashed down the side of the mountain and the sky darkened. Then stones began falling to earth killing many people. Even houses offered no protection as the stones were red hot and set buildings on fire. After the eruption ceased, large numbers of dead and injured people lay everywhere. The whole town of Cagsawa was buried. Just the tops of buildings and coconut trees protruded from the debris. The formerly beautiful cultivated slopes of Mt Mayon were now just covered with sand and ash. [Source: fabulousphilippines.com]

“One particularly sad incident occured when the priest of the church in Cagsawa church ordered the bells to be rung to warn the local people of the eruption. Hundreds of people took refuge in the church, but unfortunately the lava stream and accompanying ash surrounded and covered the church, killing about 200 people inside. Today the blackened remains of the church tower and of the priest's house and convent house still remain to recall this poignant event. The survivors rebuilt their church and a new settlement nearby at Daraga.” [Ibid]

Mount Mayon Eruption Kills in 2013

A relatively small May 2013 eruption on Mayon killed four German climbers and their Filipino guide who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The BBC reported: “Mount Mayon sent a cloud of ash and rocks into the sky. The ash blast caught a group climbing the mountain. At least seven other climbers were hurt in the eruption, which lasted for just over a minute. "Five killed and seven are injured, that is the latest report," National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council chief Eduardo del Rosario said. [Source: BBC, May 7, 2013]

Four of those killed were German nationals and the fifth was their Filipino guide, the NDRRMC said later in a statement. A guide on the mountain told a local television station by telephone that those who died were hit by the rocks that rained down on them after the ash blast. Twenty people were approaching the summit of the mountain when the eruption occurred. "It was so sudden that many of us panicked," Jun Marana, a local resident, told AFP news agency. "When we stepped out we saw this huge column against the blue sky."

In an advisory, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology called the eruption a "small phreatic event" that lasted about 73 seconds and sent ash 500m into the air. No intensification of volcanic activity was observed, it said, and the alert level would not be raised. But it said small steam and ash ejections could occur with little or no warning and advised against entry to the 6-km (4-mile) radius Permanent Danger Zone around the volcano. Chief state seismologist Renato Solidum described the eruption as a "stream driven explosion", a "normal process" in any volcano. There was no need for local residents around the mountain to evacuate, he said.

Gmanetwork.com reported: “Despite the casualties, Mayon Volcano's May 7 eruption was relatively mild in its 390-year recorded history, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said mere hours after the mountain's latest explosion. No one might have died if climbers were not near the peak at the time of the sudden "phreatic eruption," a steam blast caused by hot magma deep in the earth. The climbers reportedly died in a hail of large rocks. The explosion caught the country's vulcanologists by surprise. But they said there was no indication of a follow-up eruption. [Source: gmanetwork.com, May 7, 2013]

Mayon 'Overdue' for Strong Eruption Eruption

In August 2014, Mayon’s activity intensified as a state volcanologist warned that it is ''overdue'' for a strong eruption. Cet Dematera wrote in The Philippine Star, “The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) recorded three rock fall events during the past 24 hours. It also observed moderate emissions of white steam plumes that drifted southeast from Mayon’s crater. Earlier, Phivolcs raised Mayon’s alert status from Level 1 to 2 due to episodes of slight inflation, increase of sulfur dioxide emission beyond baseline levels, and the appearance of a lava dome. Currently, state volcanologists are closely monitoring the more visible lava dome inside the 200-meter wide crater of Mayon as changes in its size and position to help in the early detection of eruptions. [Source: Cet Dematera, The Philippine Star, August 18, 2014 /=/]

“Ed Laguerta, Phivolcs’ Bicol region chief, said 2014 is an “overdue year” for a very strong eruption. Dating back to a hundred-year span, 1897 and 1814 are the years when Mayon recorded its two deadliest eruptions out of 49 big explosions. “This 2014 is a hundred years away from the 1897 Vulcanian eruption and 200 years away from Mayon’s 1814 Plenian explosion. By historical accounts, Mayon had been erupting very violently at least at a hundred years interval. It happened twice. It may happen again,” Laguerta warned. /=/

“Laguerta said the agency will capture a series of lava dome images to determine whether the dome is continuously increasing in size and protruding towards the surface. “Because the moment the dome blocks the crater and the degassing is intense, the possibility of an explosive eruption is very high,” Laguerta told The STAR. He recounted that the same series of events took place during the eruption in 2000 that was dominated by early episodes of strong, towering and cauliflower-like dark ash columns and debris thrown up to 10 kilometers into the air. /=/

“He also clarified that an impending eruption is different from the usual abnormal activities of Mayon when a lava dome is present. “This is because the lava dome may block the opening of the volcano, like a cork in a bottle full of soda that once shaken by the escaping magma gases would trigger a powerful blast,” the veteran volcanologist warned. /=/

“Phivolcs had the first visible view of the lava dome on early morning of Aug. 13. Volcanologists captured the image through a camera installed in a telescope at least 11.5 kilometers away from the institute’s Lignon Hill Observatory in Legazpi City. “We need to have at least another image of the lava dome at the opposite side of the crater to precisely determine its size and position,” Laguerta said. Unfortunately, two aerial surveys conducted via helicopter of the Philippine Air Force failed to capture the needed images of the crater due to thick steam emission and clouds covering the summit.” /=/

Mayon Eruption in 2006

Even if Mayon erupts without immediate loss of life, danger may persist. After the 2006 eruption, people returned to their homes around the volcano. A typhoon then dislodged tons of volcanic debris deposited on the slopes, causing landslides that killed an estimated 1,000 residents

A short-lived eruption of Mount Mayon in August 2006 produced large eruptions that led to the evacuations of more than 30,000 people combined at different times for different reasons. In late December, four months after Mayon erupted lava flows and deposited ash lay in stream valleys leading from the volcano. At that time Typhoon Durian triggered deadly mudflows from the volcano. Fatalities from the mud flows were estimated at more than a thousand people and more than 15,000 people from 12 different villages were forced to evacuate their homes and communities. See Typhoon Durian

On the period of the August 2006 eruption, Associated Press reported: “The restive Mayon volcano showed more signs of an imminent eruption, belching ash three times overnight as troops and officials evacuated tens of thousands of villagers. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert to level 4 after six explosions sent ash columns up to 800 meters (2,625 feet) high and prompted forcible evacuations of about 35,000 villagers in Albay province, southeast of Manila. Volcanologist Ed Laguerta said Mayon ejected ash at least three times late Monday and continued to emit abnormally high volumes of sulfuric dioxide. Instruments detected more than 100 volcanic earthquakes overnight, mostly unfelt by humans. "This means there is more magma rising from beneath the volcano," Laguerta told The Associated Press. [Source: Associated Press, August 8, 2006 *-*]

“Gov. Fernando Gonzalez of Albay province, where Mayon is located, said troops and disaster response teams started evacuating about 35,000 villagers Monday. An additional 20,000 people would have to be moved out of harm's way in case of a major eruption. About 80 army trucks and government vehicles ferried more than 15,000 villagers to 34 evacuation centers Monday, and the evacuation would continue in the next few days, said Glenn Ravalo, an officer of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Center. Despite the mandatory evacuations, many villagers stayed put on farms around Mayon to tend their crops and livestock while guarding their homes and belongings. *-*

“Officials extended the danger zone to eight kilometers (five miles) on the volcano's southern side Monday, from seven kilometers (4.3 miles) earlier. In Matanag, a farming village of about 1,400 people well within the danger zone, life looked almost normal. About 600 residents left on Monday, but many more chose to stay behind. An army truck, a disco beat blaring from its radio, sat at the village entrance, ready to assist in a quick escape. *-*

Soldiers, however, dropped a coconut tree across the road to Matanag, blocking any incoming traffic. "My mother said that we would not evacuate now unless it's really urgent and there's a big eruption," 13-year-old Jennilyn Nantes said as she walked to school. "I'm also nervous but I've gotten used to this situation. Mayon has been like that ever since I was on the first year of grade school." Officials are hoping Mayon would go off quietly. An explosive eruption would complicate evacuation efforts, although Albay had been known to have developed one of the country's most efficient disaster response systems, Gonzalez said. *-*

Mayon Eruption in 2009

Mayon’s last eruption was from July 2009 to January 2010. Tens of thousands of local residents were forced to evacuate, but with no casualties were recorded. The heaviest eruptions were in December. John McLean wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, “Philippine authorities were struggling to finish moving nearly 50,000 people to safety as the Mount Mayon gave more warnings that it was about to erupt. However, many of those in danger refused to budge, officials said. On July 14, 2006, the volcano had started its quiet eruption. As of December, Alert Level no. 4 has been raised by the PHIVOLCS, which means that hazardous eruption is expected within days. [Source: By John McLean, Christian Science Monitor. December 17, 2009]

“For days, volcano has been spurting ash into the air, spewing lava down its slopes, and rumbling audibly. All the warning signs of an eruption are there, but scientists cannot predict when it will occur. Scientists have said the eruption could be hazardous, including pyroclastic flows – currents of superheated volcanic ash and debris that shoot down the mountainside, incinerating everything in their path.” [Source: By John McLean, Christian Science Monitor. December 22, 2009]

Bullit Marquez wrote of Associated Press wrote: “Lava continued to trickle down its steep slope, and two lava domes had formed from rising magma inside the crater, said chief state volcanologist Renato Solidum. He said the domes could grow bigger and plug the crater, leading to a gas explosion. Scientists have raised a five-stage alert to two steps below a hazardous eruption, which they said is possible within weeks. Solidum said 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. [Source: Bullit Marquez, Associated Press, December 18, 2009]

“The current activity of the volcano is similar to the initial phases of previous eruptions in 2000, 2001 and 2006. Solidum 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.” Scientists raised the alert level on Mayon to two steps below a major eruption after ash explosions. Albay provincial authorities quickly started moving thousands of families from a five-mile danger zone around the mountain. [Ibid]

"Based on previous eruptions, there would be a progressive escalation," said chief government volcanologist Renato Solidum told AFP. "From a lava flow, it graduates into throwing up ash and rocks. After that there could be stronger explosions with boulders and ash, or pyroclastic flows, shooting up several kilometers (miles) high," Solidum added.

Evacuation Around Mayon in 2009

John McLean wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, “The government of Albay, the province some 200 miles southeast of Manila where Mayon is situated, ordered the evacuation of the danger zone, a mostly agricultural area. Military trucks had helped move at least 32,000 people to evacuation centers in schools and other buildings.Authorities have also imposed a ban on anyone entering a 5-mile zone around Mayon. The reluctance of some residents to leave the danger zone remains a problem this time round. The head of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, Cedric Daep, said some residents had refused to leave, but that they would be forced to comply with instructions to move out. [Source: By John McLean, Christian Science Monitor. December 17, 2009 ==]

“The unpredictability of the volcano means the refugees could remain in the centers for weeks. But the provincial chief of police, Senior Superintendent William Macavinta, has said the evacuation centers have enough food and water for only 18 days. Local news media have reported that some centers lack adequate sanitation, presenting potential health risks for people living cheek-by-jowl. Provincial Gov. Joey Salceda has said that he is prepared to ask for international aid, if necessary. If the expected eruption turns out to be a big one, about 75,000 more people will have to be moved to safety, according to the local authorities, putting even further strain on the relief effort. ==

“Relief and disaster management officials in Albay have effected the forced evacuation of 7,000 families living near the 6 kilometers dangers zone. There are 38 evacuation centers have been designated and are now housing around 36,299 evacuees. Most of the evacuation centers are overcrowded and facing the danger of spread of epidemics. In Bikal and San Andres Resettlement Areas, evacuees build shanty’s as their temporary shelters.” ==

Forced Evacuation by the Military Around Mayon in 2009

Bullit Marquez wrote of Associated Press wrote: “Security forces in army trucks sent about 3,000 residents outside the danger zone surrounding the smoldering Mayon volcano, which looked set for a major eruption after days of shooting ash plumes and spilling lava. Authorities in central Albay province declared a round-the-clock ban on anyone being within the five-mile zone around the 8,070-foot mountain, the most active of the country's 22 volcanoes. More than 35,000 evacuees were given sleeping mats and food as they settled down in evacuation centers, mostly schools, where social workers were organizing Christmas parties and games to keep children busy, said provincial emergency management official Jukes Nunez. Mayon shot two plumes of smoke early Friday, one reaching almost 1.2 miles into the clear blue sky. [Source: Bullit Marquez, Associated Press, December 18, 2009 <*>]

“Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said a provincial board had authorized police and soldiers to move out some 2,000 remaining families — or 10,000 people — from around two towns in Mayon's foothills. Many had refused to leave their coconut and vegetable farms during the harvest time. Police will show them pictures of victims of a 1993 eruption that killed more than 70 people to persuade them to evacuate the area, he said. Nunez said people were cooperating. "They know the danger. We have to enforce our objective of zero casualty," he said.

“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 a shelter. "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." Many people have refused to leave their vegetable farms on the volcano's slopes during the current harvest time. <*>

“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. More than 30,000 had been transported out of the critical area by Wednesday, or 65 percent of the targeted population, said Cedric Daep, head of the provincial disaster management office. <*>

John McLean wrote in Christian Science Monitor, “The refugees are now crowded into school buildings. There are up to 100 people in each classroom, but they have sufficient shelter, food, and water, and medical care is on hand, officials say. But for some refugees, the temptation to go home has already been too great, despite the danger. The governor of the province of Albay, Joey Salceda, has spoken of playing a cat-and-mouse game with residents, some of whom have sneaked back into the danger zone several times, only to be removed each time. They manage to return in spite of a military and police cordon around what is supposed to be a closed area. "I know that they will want to return home," said Mr. Salceda. "If I find them in the danger zone I will bring them back to the safety of the evacuation centers because we cannot give up on them, and certainly the provincial government is not giving up on the goal of zero casualties." [Source: By John McLean, Christian Science Monitor. December 22, 2009]

White Christmas, of Sorts, for Mayon Volcano Evacuees

On Christmas Eve, 2009,AFP reported: “People displaced by an erupting volcano prepared for a "White Christmas" of a different kind as Mayon spewed ash and politicians bearing gifts trooped to evacuation centers. Rain ceased on Christmas Eve for the first time in five days as tens of thousands forced to flee by the restive volcano weighed up whether they could return home to celebrate with the traditional midnight meal. However authorities were warning them to stay put and not venture within 8 kilometers (five miles) of the crater because of the hazards posed by scalding ash and red-hot lava flowing down its flanks. [Source: Ted Aljibe, Agence France-Presse, December 24, 2009 \^/]

“The Army said a platoon of infantry and three military trucks went around the no-go areas to round up people refusing to keep out. "The orders have been executed," local military spokesman Captain Razaleigh Bansawan told reporters, but would not say if anyone was arrested. "I advise the evacuees to stay at the evacuation centers for their own safety, rather than going home for Christmas," Albay provincial governor Joey Salceda said. \^/

“Monsignor Lucilo Quiambao of the Saint Raphael parish said the displaced should not feel too sorry as they find themselves sleeping on the floor in abject evacuation camps, some of which are short of basic necessities like toilets. "Jesus Christ was not in his own place in Nazareth when he was born during a cold winter night," Quiambao told his congregation, likening their lot to conditions during the Nativity. "You are sort of imitating him at this time," he said. "This will be a sort of consolation for you." \^/

“Mayon began a relatively quiet eruption, spewing ash and lava amid ominous rumbling sounds and hundreds of volcanic earthquakes a day. More than 47,000 people, many from farms on its lower slopes, left their homes amid fears of possible "hazardous explosive eruptions" which a government advisory said could happen "within days". Ash was seen shooting from the crater, and was carried by winds to communities southeast of the cone. Under clear skies people near the volcano were treated to the spectacular sight of glowing lava and fountains of searing rock shooting up from the crater early Thursday as they attended the last of the pre-dawn masses celebrated across the Roman Catholic nation in the 10 days before Christmas Day. At Legazpi City airport, planes continued to fly in hundreds of holidaymakers, many of them relatives returning for family reunions. Some posed for pictures as they left the plane, using the erupting volcano as a dramatic backdrop. \^/

“Forty-year-old housewife Vilma Mirandilla's immediate problem was finding decent food at a local high school where they had sought refuge, along with more than 1,000 other people. The school has only 16 functioning toilets. "On our first day here we were given two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rice, a can of sardines and a pack of noodles," she told AFP. "On the third day we got just two kilograms of rice and five kilograms of rice on the fourth day," she added. \^/

“But prospects appeared to brighten as at least three candidates for the May 2010 presidential election drove into the evacuation centers aboard trucks laden with food. At the Gogon Central School, which has been turned into a temporary home for 3,400 evacuees, a long queue formed at the back of a truck festooned with an orange banner welcoming Senator Manny Villar. Former president Joseph Estrada, who is seeking a fresh six-year term, handed out relief goods around Mayon while Senator Richard Gordon, another presidential candidate, arrived earlier. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) sent truckloads of biscuits Thursday to cheer up the evacuees. "WFP has sent a total of 20 tons of high energy biscuits to assist the evacuees during this difficult moment," it said in a statement. \^/

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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