Some Mayon evacuees allowed to go home

Pia Ranada

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Some Mayon evacuees allowed to go home
Only those living in the 7 to 8 kilometer extended dangerzone can go home. Those from the 6 kilometer permanent dangerzone will stay in the evacuation centers.

MANILA, Philippines – Some Albay evacuees with homes outside the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone around Mayon Volcano will be allowed to go home starting Tuesday, November 4, barring any increase in volcanic activity, confirmed Albay officials.

Only evacuees who live in the 7 to 8-kilometer extended danger zone may start returning to their houses, said Office of Civil Defense Region 5 Director Raffy Alejandro in a text message to Rappler on November 3.

“This is upon consultation with Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology). Evacuation is already on its 50th day or entering 8 weeks,” he added.

It was agreed during a meeting earlier that day that Phivolcs would issue a pre-Level 4 alert to allow rapid re-evacuation in case activities in Mayon increase, he said.

Alert Level 4 is a warning that a hazardous eruption may occur within hours or days. Mayon remains on Alert Level 3 as of November 3, meaning a hazardous eruption is possible in weeks or months.

Alejandro clarified to Rappler that the decision to allow certain evacuees to go home was not influenced by dwindling resources to maintain 42 evacuation centers and tend to the needs of more than 54,000 evacuees. (READ: Albay needs P118 a month for Mayon evacuation)

“No. It’s more of people’s morale after 50 days of internal displacement,” he said.

But Alejandro clarified that local government officials such as mayors or barangay captains would have the final say on who stays in the evacuation centers and who goes home.

On Tuesday, LGU officials from communities in the extended dangerzone are expected to submit a final list of evacuees who are to remain in evacuation centers.

Pre-warning ‘difficult’

But Phivolcs Mayon volcanologist told Rappler that it would be “difficult” to issue a pre-Alert Level 4 warning, as requested by Albay local government.

“This is a natural phenomenon. It is not bound by timeframes. [Mayon] could erupt tomorrow, for all we know,” he told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino.

Local government officials had initially asked for a 5-day lead time but Laguerta had told them it would not be possible.

What his agency did commit to do is to give a head’s up if there were any significant changes that would not necessarily warrant an escalation of Alert Level. This includes crater glow and increased volcanic earthquakes, said Laguerta.

But Phivolcs did not argue the decision to allow some evacuees to go home.

Alert Level 3 only requires evacuation of those in the 6-km permanent dangerzone to and the 7-km dangerzone on the southeastern flank of the volcano, the side of the volcano likely to be affected first by a hazardous eruption.

Long wait not unusual

Mayon Volcano has been on Alert Level 3 for 50 days but a long wait before Alert Level 3 becomes Alert Level 4 is not unusual. 

Based on Mayon’s behavior in the past, the average time it takes for the alert level to go up to Alert Level 4 is 94 days, according to Albay officials.

Going by the average, Mayon may go on Alert Level 4 in mid-December.

It has been 19 days since Phivolcs observed out-of-the-ordinary activity in the volcano – weak crater glow detected on October 15.

The glow was caused by gas from new magma slowly rising to the crater, said volcanologist Ed Laguerta.

“This is one of the indicators that there is ongoing activity in the volcano. This makes us sure that we cannot lower the alert level,” he said.

Phivolcs continues to detect infalation at the base of the volcano which means new magma is still rising towards the crater.

In the past few days, minor volcanic earthquakes and rockfall events have been observed.

Laguerta maintained that though on the outside, Mayon seems quiet, the volcano is biding its time. 

“Because there is magma at the crater. And a phreatic eruption is still possible,” he said.

A phreatic eruption is a type of eruption that may happen without any warning, bypassing Alert Level 4. It occurs when water (from the ground or from persistent rains) nears hot magma and is violently converted to steam. 

The pressure from the steam, if unobstructed by a greater force above it, may cause an eruption. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.