Philippine province on high alert as Mayon volcano triggers mudflows

LEGAZPI CITY: Tens of thousands of residents near an erupting volcano in the eastern Philippines were on high alert on Sunday as mudflows cascaded down its slopes into a river near villages at the foot of the mountain.
The mudflows, or lahar, occurred on the southern slope of Mayon volcano in Albay province, 330 kilometres south of Manila. The volcano has been ejecting ash and lava since January 13.
While lahar levels were not yet extensive, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) urged residents to be on alert as heavy rains continued over Albay, where nearly 82,000 people have been displaced by Mayon’s eruption.
If rain washes sediment from slopes or causes rivers to overflow, it can exacerbate the problem.
“Remember that lahars and sediment-laden streams are both dangerous,” Phivolcs director Renato Solidum told reporters after confirming that lahar was flowing from one lava channel on Mayon’s slopes. “Our team is in the area now to assess the situation.”
In the town of Daraga, residents closely watched a nearby river as muddy water roared from the slopes of Mayon, eroding a dirt road connecting it to the next village.
“Since the rains started, we have been on the look out for lahars,” said Jonathan Lostado, a 26-year-old father of two, who lost five relatives to severe mudflows in 2006.
“My family has already evacuated but I return to our house everyday to check on our belongings and chickens,” he added.
Tess Bausa, chief of Daraga’s disaster risk reduction management office, said her team regularly checks on the villages to make sure the men who are left behind go to evacuation centres at night.
“The rains are making all of us nervous,” she said. “I’m unable to sleep when there are heavy rains because I’m worried about the lahar.”
In 2006, 1,300 people were killed by mudflows when a typhoon battered Albay days after Mayon erupted. More than 1,000 also went missing and were presumed dead as the lahar sent boulders as large as houses hurling down its slopes.
Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara said that while the current situation was not yet similar to 2006, the provincial government was stepping up preparations in case the conditions worsen.
“It’s typhoon season, so we have to prepare for it,” he said. “With the behaviour of the volcano, the displaced residents would probably have to stay more than one month in evacuation centres.” — dpa