Friday, 18 December 2009

Restive Mayon a tourist draw

Manila Bulletin

Local and foreign tourists have started flocking to Albay to take a glimpse of the glowing lava flow from rumbling Mayon Volcano, while police and military personnel were told to seal off danger zones from tourists and hardheaded residents who have been evacuated but who continuously try to return to their homes.

The additional troops were on top of the teams of soldiers and policemen who were tasked to conduct mandatory evacuation of the remaining 3,000 families, numbering approximately 20,000 persons, living within the six-kilometer and eight-kilometer permanent and extended danger zones, said Senior Supt. William Macavinta, Albay provincial police director.

Macavinta said they are also conducting dialogues with residents who refuse to vacate their homes, convincing them that it is safer in evacuation centers.

“Our target is for a zero-casualty in case of any major eruption. The instruction from Governor (Joey) Salceda is that there should be no human activity within the danger zones; we will implement it,” said Macavinta in a phone interview.

He said they were forced to make some security adjustments after they received reports that some of those who have been evacuated were returning to their homes within the danger zones.

When security forces confronted them, Macavinta said the residents reasoned out that eruption is not yet imminent and that they still have time to go back to earn some money from their farms.

“We understand them because it is indeed harvest time for their vegetables, that’s why our local officials here are initiating dialogues to explain to them the danger of going back,” he said.

“What we want to point out is that their lives are more valuable than their harvests. The forced evacuation is for their safety and we are optimistic that they would listen,” he added.

While they have not received reports of intrusion into the danger zones from local and foreign tourists, Macavinta said the deployment of troops in critical areas is important to ensure that no one gets near the restive Mayon.

He advised tourists to stay in safer grounds while taking pictures of the crater glow and lava flow from Mayon Volcano which started over the weekend, prompting the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology to hoist alert level 3 for the active volcano on Monday.

Macavinta explained that it is in the southeast portion of the volcano where lava flow is highly visible. It is also in that area where mandatory evacuation is being effected.

Among the areas in the southeast portion are villages in the towns of Camalig, Daraga and Sto. Domingo and in Legazpi City.

Aside from the danger zones, policemen and soldiers were also dispatched to secure the 21 evacuation centers identified so far by local disaster officials.

“We have enough personnel but I believe other units from other provinces are ready to augment our forces once a major eruption occurs,” said Macavinta.

Officials estimate that there are nearly 10,000 families, more or less 50,000 persons, who have to be forcibly evacuated from the southeast portion of the volcano which experts said are the areas where lava and other volcanic materials would fall in case of a major eruption.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday, a total of 6,993 families or 32,442 individuals have already been relocated, with local authorities expecting to finish the mandatory evacuation either today or tomorrow.

The Makati City government, meanwhile, is readying relief assistance to its sister localities in Albay.

Mayor Jejomar Binay has asked the city’s Social Welfare Department to prepare relief goods for delivery to evacuation centers in Daraga and Sto. Domingo as he ordered the city’s disaster response and rescue units to be on standby for rescue and retrieval operations in the province.

The mayor also called on other local government units and private individuals to follow Makati’s example, saying affected residents in Albay need all the help they could get even before Mayon erupts.

“Makati will be ready to provide help needed in Albay. These events seem to serve as a reminder to all of us what the holiday season is about—reaching out and helping one another. With all of us working together, we will be able to survive any challenge,” he said.

More than 20,000 evacuees would likely spend their Christmas and New Year holidays away from their homes as authorities predicted Mayon’s eruption to take months.

“There are only a few days left until Christmas. We will do all that we can to help bring cheer to our brothers and sisters in Albay,” Binay added. (With a report from Kris Bayos)

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