Saturday, 26 December 2009

Mayon at its best

Tourists have been flocking to Mayon Volcano to witness its awesome display of flowing lava and pyroclastic materials as authorities continue to expect a major eruption anytime soon. (Photo by LINUS G. ESCANDOR II)

December 25, 2009, 3:16pm
Manila Bulletin

LIGNON HILL NATURE PARK, LEGAZPI CITY – Residents were treated to an overnight fireworks display that greeted Christmas Day here as Mount Mayon spewed more lava and pyroclastic materials, prompting some people to spend noche buena on top of this hill for a view of the glowing volcanic materials trickling down Mayon’s slopes.

“Magayunon!” (It’s beautiful!),” a girl told her father who was busy shooting pictures not only of Mayon Volcano but also the view of Legazpi City after partaking their traditional noche buena on top of Lignon (pronounced as "linyon") Hill here.

So spectacular was that sight that Albay Governor Joey Salceda was prompted to say that Mayon’s activities since Thursday night was the most beautiful sight he had seen so far from the rumbling volcano, what with the glowing lava that looks like tentacles in the slopes.

“It’s Mayon at its best,” Salceda said.

The spectacle has drawn many tourists to Lignon Hill, considered a view deck for Mayon Volcano, as good weather and clear skies allowed a clear view of the burning lava flow on Christmas Eve.

Cars lined up at the foot of the hill waiting for their turn to enter the view deck since only 10 cars can enter the narrow space of the hill at any given time.

We noticed that there are more people climbing the hill tonight than in the past few days. Maybe it is because of the good weather. We can see the volcano clearly,” said Kim Chan, chief security officer of Lingnon Hill Nature Park.

A few meters away from the hill lies the observatory of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Volcanologist and Phivolcs Planning Officer Delfin Garcia said the skies have cleared since 2 p.m. last Wednesday.

“It has been cloudy for the past three to four days. The skies cleared up only 2 p.m. last Wednesday. In the past few days, we cannot see the height of the eruption column,” Garcia said.

The glowing red lava coming from the volcano can be seen in both sides oozing from the summit. Explosions were also heard intermittently, giving tourists more excitement.

Burning particles were also seen detaching from the glowing rocks that cascaded down the slopes, like fireworks displays ordinarily seen during New Year's Eve revelry and on special occasions.

While the volcanic activities were indeed wonderful to behold, they brought, however, more jitters and anxiety to affected residents and local disaster officials after scientists said the threat posed by Mount Mayon is far from over.

Resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said there were actually 96 ash explosions recorded, each followed by audible booming sounds, during good visibility that are actual manifestation of intense activity inside the volcano.

“These explosions produced light brown to grayish ash columns that reached as high as two kilometers from the summit,” said Laguerta.

At least 98 rock fall events were also detected, and three were observed to have generated pyroclastic flows that moved down within two kilometers from the crater, he added.

The rock falls, he explained, were actually a result of the detachments of lava fragments deposited in Mayon’s upper slopes.

The emission of sulfur dioxide and occurrence of tremors are on the downtrend but Laguerta said they are not an assurance that Mayon’s activity is subsiding. He said it could even spell out more danger.

Despite the huge volume of lava oozing out of the crater and the booming ash explosions that some thought was already a major eruption, Laguerta said they do not call for the hoisting of alert Level 5 that would indicate a hazardous eruption is ongoing.

“Medyo bitin pa kasi, I mean one of our categories in declaring alert level 5 is successive tall ash columns that could reach an average of five kilometers from the summit,” said Laguerta.

The ash explosions since Thursday night up to Friday only reached as high as two kilometers.

“So we still have to monitor and wait further for the activities in the next days,” said Laguerta.

Rumbling sounds and explosions were more evident Friday night than in the previous days while the explosion column or smoke-like chamber on top of the volcano can also be seen clearly even without the aid of a telescope.

Satellite images gathered two days ago revealed there are already a total of 20 million cubic meters of lava that has been discharged by the volcano.

“Now, there are scattered rock falls,” Laguerta added.

In a separate interview, Phivolcs director Renato Solidum explained that rock falls are detached fragments of the lava flow that would generate pyroclastic flows.

“While lava is flowing, there are also other hazards related to it. The fragments, they get broken into pieces and they bring in other materials and that produces pyroclastic flows,” Solidum said.

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