Monday, 4 January 2010

Clean Up Starts as Mayon Calms Down


Manila Times

Legazpi City. Disaster relief officials in the Philippines launched a massive clean-up on Sunday as tens of thousands of villagers began returning home after the restive Mayon volcano showed signs of calming down. Gov. Joey Salceda of Albay province, southeast of Manila where Mayon is located, said that he expected all 29 public schools converted into temporary shelters would reopen for classes today.

“What we are doing now is conducting damage assessment. We are on an early recovery stage,” Salceda told reporters. “We are cleaning up schools and classrooms so that classes can resume tomorrow [Monday].”

He said that fire trucks had been brought in to hose down sanitation facilities that were overwhelmed when more than 50,000 people were evacuated over the past three weeks for fear of a possible major eruption.

“It’s a massive clean up-operation,” he said.

Salceda, meanwhile, ordered the provincial social welfare department to distribute half sack of rice to each of the families who left the evacuation shelters on Saturday. On Sunday morning, at least 250 tons, or 5,000 bags of rice from World Food Program arrived at the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council for distribution.

Exequiel Rieza, Albay’s information officer, said that the province spent about P24 million for the evacuees’ food supply for 16 days—about P1.5 million daily.

On the other hand, the 2,400 or so tourists who visited the province daily to get a closer look at Mayon reportedly spent P2.4 million a day.

Danger passes

Mayon began rumbling and spewing lava and ash in early December, leading authorities to declare a Level 4 alert out of a scale of 5, meaning that a major hazardous eruption was about to take place.

But Mayon has since shown signs it was calming down, and on Saturday the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) lowered the alert level to 3.

The provincial government said more than 46,000 people living some 7 to 8 kilometers from Mount Mayon, the country’s most active volcano, had been given the green light to return home.

But more than 3,000 others who live in a 6-kilometer zone will have to remain in evacuation centers.

“Right now we are not seeing a new rise of magma,” chief volcanologist Renato Solidum said in a radio interview.

Warning to locals

However, Solidum warned villagers returning to their farms on the foothills of Mayon to remain wary of lava flows or heavy rains that could dislodge volcanic debris from the slopes.

Resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said that under alert Level 3, Mayon is still in danger of erupting and that the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone, as well as the 7- to 8-kilometer extended danger zone, should remain free from any human activity.

“We’re still closely watching the activity of Mayon Volcano, because based on the history Mayon has the habit of getting lull for a weeks or months before the explosive explosion,” he said.

Gov. Salceda said that about 900 families from within the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone and the extended danger zone on the south flank have not been allowed to return home yet.

He added that the evacuees were allowed to return home only temporarily until the alert is lowered to Level 2.

An August 2006 eruption caused no immediate deaths but the following December a passing typhoon unleashed an avalanche of volcanic mud from the mountain’s slopes that left 1,000 people dead.

The 2,460-meter Mayon has erupted 48 times in recorded history. In 1814, more than 1,200 people were killed when lava flows buried the town of Cagsawa.

Praise from Palace

Also on Sunday, Malacañang praised the Albay government for its handling of the Mayon situation.
Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said that the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) of the province, headed by Gov. Salceda, lived up to expectations.

“We have always considered that the PDCC of Albay as one of the best and the most efficient in the country,” Remonde added. “And once again, the Albay PDCC has shown its capability to handle emergency situation like the threat of Mayon Volcanao eruption. We would like to congratulate Albay PDCC for that.”

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