Mount Mayon eruption: Philippines volcano explodes, shooting lava 700 metres into the sky

At least five eruptions and two 'explosion-type earthquakes' send lava streaming down mountainside

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 24 January 2018 14:16
Red-hot lava continues to spew from Philippines volcano

Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes when a violent volcanic explosion in the Philippines shot lava 700 metres (2,300 feet) into the sky.

Mount Mayon, the country's most active volcano, erupted for eight minutes, sending an ash plume 1.9 miles into the sky. The falling clouds of dust and ash blanketed the sky for miles, plunging villages into darkness.

At least 56,000 people were forced to evacuate as authorities warned a further hazardous eruption may be imminent.

The explosion sent fountains of glowing lava cascading down the sides of Mount Mayon’s steep sided volcanic cone. One lava flow has advanced almost two miles from the summit’s crater.

The initial blast was followed by at least five further eruptions, while the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported two “explosion-type earthquakes” had occurred, as well as 18 “tremor events”.

"The lava fountains reached 500 meters to 700 meters [1,640 feet to 2,297 feet] high and generated ash plumes that reached 2.5 kilometers to 3 kilometers [1.6 miles to 1.9 miles] above the crater," the institute reported.

Philippine authorities raised the volcano's alert level to four out of a possible five, indicating "intense unrest" and the likelihood of a further hazardous eruption within days.

The alert extends the danger zone around the volcano to about five miles.

The army and police evacuated local residents to 46 evacuation shelters, but have struggled to stop people sneaking back to check on their homes and farms.

Others reportedly returned to watch a popular cockfight in Albay's Santo Domingo town.

In addition to the ash and lava, pyroclastic flows of fast-moving superheated gas and volcanic debris are a major threat to life.

Cedric Daep, a disaster response official, told a news conference he has recommended electricity and water supplies be cut within the designated no-go zones to discourage residents from returning.

"If pyroclastic flows hit people, there is no chance for life," Mr Daep said. "Let us not violate the natural law, avoid the prohibited zone, because if you violate, the punishment is the death penalty."

Emergency supplies including 30,000 ash masks, food, water and medicines were distributed from the evacuation shelters, athough the prospect of further eruptions meant supplies could be compromised.

"We couldn't sleep last night because of the loud rumblings. It sounded like an airplane that's about to land," 59-year-old farmer Quintin Velardo said at an evacuation centre in Legazpi city.

"I tell my grandchildren to study hard so they can live elsewhere without a volcano to keep an eye on all your life."

The Philippines has 22 active volcanoes. The country is on the edge of the “ring of fire”, a circle of tectonic plate lines that surround the Pacific Ocean.

Mount Mayon is a popular destination for climbers and tourists but has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years.

The worst loss of life from the volcano was in 1814, when over 1,200 people were buried in volcanic mud flows.

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