Evacuees begin returning home as Philippine volcano rests

Manila (dpa) - Thousands of people who fled the wrath of erupting Mayon volcano in the eastern Philippines have started returning home as the cone-shaped mountain remained calm for the past six days, disaster relief officials said on Wednesday.

A total of 8,404 evacuees from Guinobatan town at the foot of Mayon Volcano in Albay province, 330 kilometres south of Manila, have left overcrowded evacuation centres since Monday, said Cedric Daep, head of the provincial disaster management office.

''But there are still 61,256 evacuees housed in more than 40 evacuation centres in eight towns surrounding the volcano,'' he said.

Daep said all those who returned to their homes were not residing in a 6-kilometre permanent danger zone and an extended 7-kilometre buffer zone identified by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

But Phivolcs warned the country's most active volcano is still ''at a state of unrest'' despite the lull. It also cautioned residents near river banks and in low-lying areas against the threat of hot ash and mudflows.

''Some hot lahar flows may occur due to the presence of pyroclastic deposits on the volcano's slopes, which may be eroded and remobilised during intense and prolonged rainfall,'' the Phivolcs said in a statement.

Lahar - a deadly mixture of rainwater and volcanic ash and other debris - has killed more than a thousand people and buried villages in the northern provinces of Pampanga, Bataan, Bulacan and Tarlac when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991.

On Tuesday, fresh lava deposits at the slopes of Mayon collapsed, generating pyroclastic flow and billowing ash clouds that darkened the skies and sent scared residents back to evacuation centres.

The 2,462-metre volcano, which is famous among local and foreign tourists for its perfectly symmetrical cone, has been showing signs of unrest since June.

Mayon's last eruption was in February 1993, when at least 78 people died and more than 50,000 were evacuated. Its deadliest eruption was in 1814 when it buried an entire town under ash and killed more than 1,300 people. dpa jg gl js

Copyright (c) 2000 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/08/2000 02:18:36


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