Philippines

Philippine volcano calm, thousands head home

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LEGAZPI, Philippines, March 6 (Reuters) - Thousands of Philippine villagers ignored the danger of eruptions and made their way back to their homes under the deadly Mayon volcano on Monday, the fifth straight day of calm from the mountain crater.

But scientists refused to rule out the danger of further eruptions from the 2,460-metre (8,000-foot) volcano.

"In one to two weeks we might be able to say if the eruptions are finished," director Raymundo Punongbayan of the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology told reporters.

Ignoring the danger of fresh eruptions and the threat of mudflows from Mayon's slopes, an estimated 8,000 villagers in Guinobatan have left evacuation camps and gone back to their villages, relief worker Marites Balingasa told Reuters.

Chief provincial relief officer Cedric Daep said he had no figures on how many had returned home but that only those whose houses lay outside a six-km (four-mile) radius from the crater -- the so-called no-go zone -- were being allowed to go back.

Nearly 70,000 people fled foothill villages after the volcano began its latest series of eruptions on February 24. There have been no reported casualties.

Located in Albay province 330 km (190 miles) southeast of Manila, Mayon killed 77 villagers in its last major eruption in 1993.

It killed 1,200 people and buried a town under flaming ash in its deadliest blast in 1814.

Housewife Florie Beson, 32, was among the first evacuees to hike back to her mountainside village of Buyuan.

With her two children, she walked back to Buyuan on Sunday and spent the night in her home but came rushing back to the evacuation centre on Monday when rains pounded the volcano.

"I got scared because there might be mudflows," Beson said.

Vulcanologists have warned heavy rains may loosen the tonnes of steaming rocks and ash deposited on the slopes of Mayon and send them cascading down as mudflows into foothill villages.

Rains again briefly pelted the volcano area on Monday.

Vulcanologist Ronaldo Arboleda said Mayon might be following the pattern of its 1984 eruption when it subsided for several days before unleashing a new and more powerful blast.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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