Major Mayon eruption unlikely

LEGAZPI, Philippines, AP

Recent explosions in the Mayon volcano released enough internal pressure to lessen the chance of a major eruption in the near term, scientists said Monday.

An eruption is still expected within the next week, but it probably will be smaller than the one on Jun. 24 that blasted ash clouds 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) into the air but caused no damage to nearby houses, volcanologist Ed Villacorte said.

Still, unstable mounds of wet ash on the side of the central Philippine volcano threaten farming villages at its foot, Villacorte said. Any new eruption could also jet superheated clouds of ash, rock chips and gas down the slopes, he said.

The clouds, known as pyroclastic flows, can incinerate anything in their path and are often the most dangerous aspect of volcanoes. They can speed down a slope at up to 100 kilometers per hour (60 miles an hour) at temperatures of up to 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Lava is still trickling from the crater and seismic activity is well above normal,” Villacorte said. “It could erupt again within the week.”

But he said tremors from the volcano have decreased in recent days, indicating lower magma pressure.

Three days after Mayon’s big recent eruption, magma burst through rock ceilings in three smaller explosions. On Friday, two moderate eruptions puffed clouds of ash two kilometers (1.2 miles) into the sky.

The release of pressure, so far without casualties, is “sort of good news,” Villacorte said.

One day before the June 24 eruption, scientists ordered the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from villages near the volcano.

Some farmers stayed and many residents, mostly men, have returned daily to tend crops that thrive in the volcano’s rich soot-black soil.

Some 45,000 evacuees now crowd 31 evacuation centers in the nearby city of Legazpi, many anxious to go home.

“We have to have patience, but we need to work in the fields,” said Helen Barajas, a 35-year-old farmer from the village of Mabinit, about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the volcano.

Barajas, who spent 28 days in an emergency shelter during an eruption early last year, said she hopes to return within two weeks.

Last year’s eruption caused 214 million pesos (US$4.3 million) in damage to agriculture and forced 68,000 villagers to evacuate. The latest round of volcanic activity has been less harmful, but farmers are still suffering economically because of the disruptions to their work.

As of Friday, Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Q. Montemayor estimated the agricultural damage from the latest eruptions at 10 million pesos (US$200,000).

Like many other evacuees at her shelter, Barajas complained that 4,000 people share four water fountains and many of the 15 toilets are clogged.

Private donors on Monday distributed blankets, water pails, sleeping mats, powdered milk and laundry soap to 2,700 families who have been sleeping as many as 80 to a room in elementary schools, churches and other public buildings. The government gives the evacuees rice and tinned sardines daily and a meal of chicken every Sunday.

But Salvacion Ador, a 42-year-old farmer, said she misses the steady water supply, ample space and clean air of her village. Carrying the youngest of her six children, she said she must jostle for space and scrounge firewood to cook her meals of rice and pasta on open fires in the elementary school yard.

Authorities have not said when the villagers can return but many evacuees speculate they must live two more weeks in the shelters.

“It is hard to live here so long,” Ador said.