Philippines: Volcanic Activity - Information Bulletin n° 1

Situation Report
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This bulletin is being issued for information only and reflects the current situation and details available at this time. The International Federation is not seeking funding or other assistance from donors for this operation.

A total of 9,276 families (44,637 persons) are currently housed in 27 evacuation centres in Legazpi City and Albay province of the Philippines due to the imminent hazardous explosion of Mount Mayon. At 1430 local time on 20 December, Alert Level 3 was raised to Alert Level 4 which means that a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within days.

The Situation

On 14 December 2009, an increased volcanic activity was recorded by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOLCS), prompting scientists to raise the Alert Level of Mount Mayon from 2 to 3, which means that magma is close to the crater and a hazardous explosive eruption is imminent. As a result of these developments, a mandatory evacuation was reinforced for households in all areas within the 6-km radius Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) and the 8-km Extended Danger Zone (EDZ) in the Southeast Quadrant, particularly, in Buyuan, Mabinit and Bonga areas.

On 20 December 2009, Mount Mayon's volcanic activity escalated with the increased number and size of seismic activities. A total of 1,942 volcanic earthquakes was detected by the seismic network. Sulfur dioxide emission rate remained very high at 6,089 tonnes per day while audible booming and rumbling sounds were reported in the eastern flank of the volcano.

The Alert Level is now at four out of a possible five, which means that:

i) a lava pile is accumulating on the crater floor,

ii) a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.

PHIVOLCS reiterated that the EDZ from the summit of 8 km on the southern sector of the volcano and the 7km on the northern sector be strictly observed. Areas just outside the EDZ were likewise advised to prepare for evacuation in the event of hazardous explosive eruptions intensify. The Local Government Unit of Albay Province has initiated a mandatory evacuation in the PDZ and EDZ areas since 14 December 2009. Due to the increase in the alert level, the number of evacuees had grown considerably from 4,940 families (23,314 persons) on 16 December to 9,276 families (44,637 persons) as of 21 December at 1700 local time. The evacuated families are currently housed in 27 pre-identified evacuation centres.

According to the local authorities, all families that should have been preemptively evacuated under Alert Level 4 had already been moved preemptively during Alert Level 3 (so there should be no additional evacuations in the short term).

The main concern expressed by the local government, with "hazardous explosive eruption expected within hours or days", is to convince evacuees to remain in the evacuation centres, especially, with the approaching holidays. The Governor has requested support with non-food item distributions and the organization of social activities to keep people busy in the evacuation centres. According to the information from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) team on the ground, a significant number of people is going to the forbidden zones explaining that they have to go back to their land to take care of their livelihoods (crops, etc).

Tremendous efforts have been put in place by local authorities to keep evacuees in the evacuation centres. Food distribution (rice, sardines, etc) was organized by the government over the past weekend. In addition, the government made arrangements with provincial/city/rural health facilities to meet possible health and water and sanitation needs of the evacuated families. Local government unit of the Tabaco City dispatched mobile medical teams to the evacuation camps who will be establishing health posts in the centres. The Department of Health has distributed 50,000 face masks to the communities for protection from ash falles. The Department is awaiting the delivery of P1.8M medicinies and other health supplies.