Philippine volcano spews fountains of lava, big ash plumes

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Mayon volcano erupts for the second straight day on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 as seen from Legazpi city, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines. (AP)
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Ash spews from the Mayon volcano as it continues to erupt, seen at sunrise from Legazpi City in Albay province, south of Manila on January 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Philippine volcano spews fountains of lava, big ash plumes

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippines’ most active volcano spewed fountains of lava and massive ash plumes overnight and Tuesday morning after authorities warned a violent eruption may be imminent.
Lava fountains reached up to 700 meters (2,300 feet) above Mount Mayon’s crater and ash plumes rose up to 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) during the night and before daybreak, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. An explosive eruption Monday was the most powerful since the volcano started acting up more than a week ago.
Disaster officials in Albay province, where Mayon lies, say more than 30,000 people are staying in evacuation centers.
Officials raised Mayon’s alert level to four on a scale of five, meaning a violent eruption is possible within hours or days. The danger zone expanded to 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the crater, affecting thousands more residents.
The eruptions have shrouded nearby villages in darkness and sent lava, rocks and debris cascading down Mayon’s slopes toward the no-entry danger zone. There have no reports of deaths and injuries. Airplanes have been ordered to stay away from the crater and ash-laden winds and several flights have been canceled.
Volcanic ash fell in about a dozen towns in coconut-growing Albay province and nearby Camarines Sur province, with visibility being heavily obscured in a few towns because of the thick gray ash fall, Jukes Nunez, an Albay provincial disaster response officer, said by telephone.
“It was like night time at noon, there was zero visibility in some areas because the ash fall was so thick,” Nunez said.
More than 30,000 ash masks and about 5,000 sacks of rice, along with medicine, water and other supplies, were being sent to evacuation centers, Office of Civil Defense regional director Claudio Yucot said.
Mayon lies about 340 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Manila. With its near-perfect cone, it is popular with climbers and tourists but has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, sometimes violently.
In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers who had ventured near the summit despite warnings. Its most destructive eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried the town of Cagsawa in volcanic mud. The belfry of Cagsawa’s stone church still juts from the ground in an eerie reminder of Mayon’s fury.
The Philippines lies in the “Ring of Fire,” a line of seismic faults surrounding the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.
In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the northern Philippines exploded in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing about 800 people.


100s of S. Koreans to enter North to reunite with loved ones

South Korean participants sit to register to take part in family reunions with their North Korean family members at a hotel in Sokcho, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018. (AP)
Updated 29 min 13 sec ago
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100s of S. Koreans to enter North to reunite with loved ones

  • 180 families to be reunited in North's mountain resort
  • More than 57,000 have registered for a reunion

SEOUL, South Korea: About 200 South Koreans and their family members prepared to cross into North Korea on Monday for heart-wrenching meetings with relatives most haven’t seen since they were separated by the turmoil of the Korean War.
The weeklong event at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s drive for a nuclear weapons program that can reliably target the continental United States.
The temporary reunions are highly emotional because most of those taking part are elderly people eager to see their loved ones once more before they die. Most of these families were driven apart during the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still in a technical state of war.
Buses carrying the elderly South Koreans attending this week’s reunions arrived at a border immigration office Monday morning. Red Cross workers wearing yellow vests waved at them. Some were in wheelchairs and others were aided by workers as they got off the buses and moved to the South Korean immigration office in the eastern border town of Goseong. After undergoing immigration checks, they were to cross the border by buses and travel to Diamond Mountain.
Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other. Nearly 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived program from 2005 to 2007. No one has had a second chance to see their relatives.
According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, 197 separated South Koreans and their family members will take part in the first round of reunions that run from Monday to Wednesday. Another 337 South Koreans will participate in a second round of reunions from Friday to Sunday.
South Korea will also send dozens of medical and emergency staff to Diamond Mountain to prepare for potential health problems considering the large number of elderly participants.
Many of the South Korean participants are war refugees born in North Korea who will be meeting their siblings or the infant children they left behind, many of them now into their 70s.
Park Hong-seo, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran from the southern city of Daegu, said he always wondered whether he’d faced his older brother in battle.
After graduating from a Seoul university, Park’s brother settled in the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan as a dentist in 1946. After the war broke out, Park was told by a co-worker that his brother refused to flee to the South because he had a family in the North and was a surgeon in the North Korean army.
Park fought for the South as a student soldier and was among the allied troops who took over Wonsan in October 1950. The US-led forces advanced farther north in the following weeks before being driven back by a mass of Chinese forces after Beijing intervened in the conflict.
Park learned that his brother died in 1984. At Diamond Mountain, he will meet his North Korean nephew and niece, who are 74 and 69, respectively.
“I want to ask them what his dying wish was and what he said about me,” Park said in a telephone interview last week. “I wonder whether there’s a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan.”
During the three years since the reunions were last held, the North tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated a potential of striking the continental United States.
North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months. Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a son of North Korean war refugees, agreed to resume the reunions during the first of their two summits this year in April.
South Korea sees the separated families as the largest humanitarian issue created by the war, which killed and injured millions and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into the North and South. The ministry estimates there are currently about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.
But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants.
The limited number of reunions cannot meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say. More than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to participate in reunions have died, according to the Seoul ministry.
Analysts say North Korea sees the reunions as an important bargaining chip with the South, and doesn’t want them expanded because they give its people better awareness of the outside world. While South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.