Philippines

Philippine volcano spews boulders as big as houses

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By Enrique de Castro

LEGAZPI, Philippines, March 1 (Reuters) - A deadly Philippine volcano erupted again on Wednesday after nearly a day of quiet, spitting out flaming boulders as big as houses in an awesome display of its power.

Aside from an old woman who died of a heart attack during Mayon's eruption on Tuesday, no new casualties have been reported but truckloads of frightened villagers kept pouring into evacuation centres, swelling the number of refugees to 63,000, officials said.

"Today's eruption was stronger in that Mayon was ejecting larger and more dense materials ... The rocks were as big as houses and cars," vulcanologist Ronaldo Arboleda told Reuters.
He said rivers of steaming volcanic material had surged four km (2.5 miles) down from the crater, farther than Tuesday's fiery flows.

Volcanic ash carried westward by the wind have reached as far as Libmanan town in Camarines Sur province, about 100 km (60 miles) from Mayon, relief official Gloria Luistro said.

The volcano, in Albay province 330 km (190 miles) southeast of Manila, has been belching rocks and ash since February 24. It killed 77 people in its last major eruption in 1993.

Chief Albay relief officer Cedric Daep said relief agencies had set up mobile hospitals around Mayon to treat people stricken with asthma and other respiratory ailments after the air was filled with ash particles.

Undaunted by the eruptions, some evacuees have been returning to their villages for brief hours during the day to check their farms before returning to evacuation centres at nightfall.

The Right to die

"We try to stop them but some just want to go back. Maybe next time, we will just allow them to exercise their right to die," Daep said by telephone.

Two farmers who defied warnings on Wednesday and hiked back to their village came back soon after, their legs bruised and cut after they dashed down the mountain as rock tumbled down the slopes, Daep said.

He said the urgent need now was for face masks to protect an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 villagers living closest to Mayon.

Vulcanologists said the risk of casualties had lessened with the evacuation of villagers from within six km (3.7 miles) of Mayon's crater. The area has been declared a no-go zone.

"Unless there is a very heavy volume of (volcanic material) we don't expect it to reach populated areas," Arboleda said.
A team of U.S. diplomats and military officers visited evacuation centres on Wednesday to see what assistance the United States government could provide.

The military officers are part of a U.S. contingent taking part in joint military exercises with Philippine forces.

Day turned into night in Guinobatan town, close to Mayon, on Tuesday when the volcano unleashed one of its heaviest eruptions, blanketing the foothills with layers of ash.

The blast knocked out power supplies in Albay and nearby Sorsogon province but electricity has returned to some areas.

Parade of ghostly silhouettes

Ash rained down on Guinobatan again on Wednesday, blotting out the sun for the second straight day and turning residents into ghostly silhouettes as they moved down the street towards the few shops that were open.

Many wore masks or had pieces of cloth tied over their noses and mouths.

At the town centre, women put up their umbrellas as shields while they queued up outside a village hall to receive rations of rice and noodles.

Having lived all their lives in the shadow of the unpredictable volcano, Guinobatan residents refused to be evacuated to resettlement centres.

"We're used to living here. The only thing we are afraid of is the mudflows if it should rain," housewife Gloria Repomenta told Reuters.

So far, little rain has fallen on the mountain.

Mayon, one of the Philippines' 22 active volcanoes, killed 1,200 people in its deadliest eruption in 1814.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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