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Philippine officials fear Mount Mayon eruption could be imminent

Lava from Mayon volcano is seen as it erupts in Legazpi on Monday. (AFP)
MANILA: Philippine authorities have warned that Mount Mayon, the country’s most active volcano, could be set for a “hazardous eruption” as lava flowed down its crater Monday morning following three steam eruptions on Sunday.
Famed for its near-perfect cone shape, Mount Mayon is a major landmark in Albay province, south of Manila. At least 50 eruptions have been recorded since 1616. Mayon’s most destructive eruption was in 1814, and claimed around 1,200 lives as well as destroying the historical Cagsawa church. Its most recent eruption was in 2014.
Almost 17,500 people living within Mayon’s six-to-seven-kilometer danger zone have been evacuated since the volcano started to spew steam and ash clouds during a phreatic eruption — a steam-driven explosion — on Saturday.
Authorities began to implement forced evacuations after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) increased the alert level for Mount Mayon to three late on Sunday.
“Alert level three means there is an increased possibility of hazardous eruption,” PHIVOLCS director Renato Solidum told Arab News.
“The Mayon volcano is already erupting, but the eruption is non-explosive,” he added. “But now there is a possibility that there could be an explosive eruption.”
Displaced residents may have to stay in temporary shelters for several weeks, or even longer, he explained.
“(They’re) not going back any time soon,” Solidum said. “As long as there are indications of the potential threat of an explosive eruption, they will be staying in the evacuation centers.”
Solidum explained the alert level was actually more likely to rise to level four than to be lowered. At level three, and eruption can be expected within a matter of weeks, or perhaps days. At level four, “the window to eruption is shorter,” meaning days or even hours.
At the current level-three alert, authorities strongly advise that no one enters the six-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone or the seven-kilometer Extended Danger Zone on the volcano’s southern flank.
PHIVOLCS announced that two lava-collapse events occurred at 9:41 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. on Monday, lasting five and seven minutes respectively and producing rock falls and small-volume pyroclastic density currents.
“These events appear to have originated from the lava front and produced an ash cloud that drifted to the southwest sector,” the institute explained, adding that ash fall had been reported in at least 27 villages in the municipalities of Guinobatan and Camalig in Albay province.
Meanwhile, R A Ostria, a resident of Guinobatan, told Arab News that due to heavy rain in Albay, it was hard to tell if a further phreatic eruption had taken place.
“People only realize there has been another eruption if they experience eye irritation, or there’s a sulfuric smell, or if there’s further ash fall,” he said.
Ostria claimed local government officials and staff of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council were working overnight to evacuate residents. While many left the area voluntarily, some, especially older people, refused, apparently unfazed by the threat of an eruption, having faced them before.