Philippines

Philippines volcano threatens catastrophic mudslides

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Situation Report
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Posted
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Written by Stephanie Kriner Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org, with news reports
Ten years after the second largest volcanic eruption this century killed 800 people in a dynamic explosion of high-speed avalanches and giant mudslides, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines is posing another deadly threat. The 1991 eruption also blew off Pinatubo's top, leaving a crater more than 2 square miles in its summit. Now geologists are warning that this gaping hole, which has been quickly filling with water since the start of the rainy season in May, threatens to unleash massive floods and mudslides.

The gushing water could combine with volcanic ash and mud on the volcano's slopes and literally bury villages below.

Philippine officials and geologists are drawing up a plan to avert the disaster after realizing that waters are rising to dangerous levels in the crater lake, threatening more than 40,000 farmers and villagers living below. The lake has risen to within 16 feet of the summit point. In all, the gigantic crater has collected 7 trillion cubic feet of rainwater inside Pinatubo, which is located 55 miles north of Manila.

According to the plan, some 30 local residents, armed with picks, shovels, and jackhammers, will dig a horseshoe-shaped 16-foot notch in the wall of the crater. The notch will loosen another 16 feet of already weakened wall, allowing 530 million cubic feet of water to controllably drain into an uninhabited area. The project also will release pressure from walls that threaten to collapse and unleash the water onto villagers below.

"The consensus is to do this as soon as possible," Mylene Martinez-Villegas, head geologist with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told the Associated Press "The rainy season is increasing the risk that the crater could collapse soon."

During the digging, villagers will be evacuated in case the operation weakens another portion of the volcano's walls, unpredictably and uncontrollably sending massive amounts of water and mud down Pinatubo's slopes. Scientists hope the plan will permanently avert a crater collapse. If not drained, the weight of the water could shatter the volcano's walls and the water would burst out.

"One of the issues we are particularly discussing is the danger to the crew," Villegas said. "They have to know where to stop (digging) and geologists will be there supervising."

A team of geologists commissioned by the British-based aid agency Oxfam recently warned that a lake collapse could be similar to the one that occurred in June 1998, when Hurricane Mitch poured massive rain into the crater of Nicaragua's Casita Volcano. More than 2,000 people were killed in the lake burst and mudslides that resulted. The geologists warned that a collapse of Pinatubo's crater lake could cause an avalanche of water and mud to engulf the town of Botolan and 46,000 inhabitants.

Pinatubo is classified as one of the Phillipines' 22 active volcanoes. But another eruption is unlikely soon because scientists believe the volcano comes to life only every few centuries.

Following the 1991 eruption, which followed 500 years of dormancy, scientists discovered that Pinatubo had been created by hundreds of giant mudflows. The scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) also warned that mudslides could once again rush down Pinatubo's slopes in the next major eruption.

Since then, those who once lived in danger of Pinatubo moved to new towns built on higher ground. However, 100,000 people remain at risk, according to USGS. But with a predicted 500 years of dormancy to look forward to, no one expected to hear from Pinatubo so soon.

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DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.