Violent volcanic eruption feared

LEGAZPI: A giant mushroom-shaped cloud shot up from the Philippines’ most active volcano on Monday, turning day into night as it rained ash on communities where tens of thousands have fled after warnings of an impending eruption.
“Hazardous eruption imminent,” the state volcanology agency concluded in its latest bulletin, saying Mayon volcano could blow up within days after two weeks of activity.
Fine ash and sand fell on Legazpi, a city of about 200,000 people, and nearby areas after the midday explosion turned the area into virtual nighttime, forcing motorists to switch on their lights and use windscreen wipers, an AFP video stringer said.
The ash column rose several kilometres above the volcano, blotting out the sun in a largely agricultural region some 330 kilometres southeast of Manila.
“I had to stop because my helmet had filled up with ash,” local housewife Girlie Panesa, 39, said as she parked her motorcycle by the roadside in the nearby town of Ligao.
She asked bystanders for water to wash the cement-grey ash off her visor, saying she plans to ride home despite the hazardous conditions because her teenage daughter was alone in their house.
“We expect the explosions to continue,” Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology director Renato Solidum told a news conference in Manila.
“There is a possibility of a dangerous eruption, the start of which we are already witnessing,” Solidum added.
He advised local officials to evacuate more areas around the crater, expanding the danger zone from six kilometres to eight kilometres.
He also warned aircraft to steer clear of the area due to the danger of jet engines sucking in ash which could gum up turbines, potentially causing a catastrophic crash.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said it shut down Legazpi airport until further notice, disrupting several domestic flights, while warning off other aircraft from the region. — AFP