Erupting volcano in Philippines lures tourists

Erupting volcano in Philippines lures tourists
Tourists love to see the lava flow near Mayon Volcano, here photographed at Ligñon Hill, Barangay Bogtong, Legazpi City. Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has declared a state of calamity in the province.

LEGAZPI CITY - "This will boost local tourism…. It's like a party. People are out at night watching," said Marti Calleja, who runs all-terrain vehicle tours near Mayon Volcano for as many as 100 tourists per week.

"It's dramatic, like a fireworks show…. When there's nothing happening, it's all dark around here, but now it's picture-perfect," Calleja told Agence France-Presse.

Calleja said that when Mayon became active in the past, his clients often requested night tours to see the glowing crater.

Aljon Banares, who works for a backpackers' inn 12 kilometers from the volcano, was also preparing for more visitors.

"We have more guests in situations like this. Tourists want to see the lava flow," Banares said.

That may be so, but Albay Gov. Joey Salceda placed Albay province under a state of calamity and ordered the immediate evacuation of 10,500 families, or 51,625 people, in two cities and three towns after volcanologists warned of a dangerous eruption by Mayon Volcano within weeks.

The volcano, famed for its near-perfect cone and brutal volatility, began to stir again with magma rising to the top and small earthquakes rattling deep inside.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised the warning over Mayon to Alert Level 3 on Monday night, meaning a hazardous blast could occur in weeks.

At a joint meeting on Tuesday of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, Salceda said "forced evacuation" would be imposed on residents within the 6-km permanent danger zone (PDZ).

A "compulsory or mandatory evacuation" would also be in effect for those within the 6-8 km "extended danger zone (EDZ)," Salceda said.

The 2,460-meter Mayon has a long history of deadly eruptions. In 1814, more than 1,200 people were killed when lava flows buried the town of Cagsawa.

An explosion in August 2006 did not directly cause deaths, but four months later a passing typhoon unleashed an avalanche of volcanic mud from Mayon's slopes that killed 1,000 people.

Four foreign tourists and their local tour guide were killed when Mayon last erupted in May 2013. They were on the volcano's slopes at the time, and Banares said tourists would not be in danger if they acted sensibly.

"We tell our clients that it's safe as long as they follow the government's warnings," Banares said.

Thousands at risk

Official records showed the population at risk within the 6-km zone would be 2,898 families (15,049 persons) from 24 villages in the cities of Tabaco and Ligao and the towns of Malilipot, Camalig and Guinobatan.

The population at risk within the 6-8-km EDZ area would be 7,657 families (36,576 persons) from 25 villages in the same towns and cities.

Hard-headed farmers

Residents will be forcibly evacuated, said Bernardo Alejandro, the regional civil defence director.

He said authorities expected to evacuate almost all of the 50,000 people in the danger zone-a picturesque coconut farming area near the Pacific coast-within three days.

"We'll have no problems with the 99 per cent who will evacuate but there are some who will be hard-headed," Alejandro said, citing the response to a similar evacuation call in 2009 when some farmers refused to move out.

"They don't want to leave their houses and their livelihood…. These are coconut and orchid farmers with chickens, pigs and carabaos," he said.

On Monday night, the local government of Guinobatan evacuated 29 families, composed of 120 people, from Barangay (village) Muladbucad, to the elementary school in the village.

"Alert Level 3 may indicate a possible hazardous Mayon eruption in the coming weeks based on several volcanic quakes recorded by our seismographs," resident volcanologist Eduardo Laguerta said.

In its bulletin early on Tuesday, Phivolcs said it had recorded 32 volcanic earthquakes and 72 rockfall events over the past 24 hours.

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