Philippines

Thousands told to leave Philippine Volcano Slopes

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LEGAZPI, Philippines (Reuters) - Philippine officials ordered the evacuation on Tuesday of thousands of villagers living on the slopes of Mayon volcano after scientists reported lava fragments rolling down its slopes.

Provincial relief supervisor Cedric Daep said teams of police and soldiers had been sent to the mountain to persuade peasants to abandon their homes and farms because of the danger of an eruption.

''To avoid charges that we are violating human rights, members of the human rights commission are accompanying the police and the army to convince the residents to leave. Evacuation is in progress,'' Daep said by telephone.

Daep said that despite a previous order declaring a six-km (3.7-mile) radius from Mayon's summit a no man's land, over 5,000 people still lived in the area, stubbornly refusing to abandon their vegetable farms which were their only source of livelihood.

Asked what the police would do if the residents refused to leave, Daep said: ''We will take them with us. But I think we can persuade them.''

Vulcanologists said a pile of lava that had been forming around Mayon's crater since February 12 began to crack on Monday, sending burning fragments rolling down its slopes. The lava trickles continued until early Tuesday, they said.

''It is not new lava coming out of the volcano but lava deposits around the crater which are breaking up because of the ascent of magma inside the volcano,'' vulcanologist Ted Sandoval told Reuters.

The Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology said it was maintaining an alert at ''level 3,'' meaning the situation was critical and ''a hazardous eruption'' was possible within weeks.

Sandoval said it was difficult to say definitely if or when an eruption would occur.

''There could be a sudden, very rapid change of activity... This may go into a sudden eruption or the activity may just stay where it is now and then decline,'' he said. Mayon, in Albay province 210 miles southeast of Manila, has been restive for eight months. It has had a history of violent eruptions, the deadliest occurring in 1814 when flaming ash killed 1,200 people.

The last major eruption in 1993 killed 77 villagers.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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