BONGA, Philippines (AP) — A large number of individuals who abandoned their residences in the central region of the Philippines to escape an unsettled volcano face an additional peril that is exacerbating continuous evacuations: the likelihood of monsoon rains being unleashed by an imminent typhoon.
Over 6,000 residents residing in rural areas that lie within a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) range from Mayon volcano’s peak in northeastern Albay province have been compelled to evacuate.
Officials said thousands more individuals who are situated within the permanent danger zone urgently need to be relocated to secure sites.
Meanwhile, many others who live outside this perimeter have packed their belongings and voluntarily left with their children to seek shelter in evacuation centers located in Albay.
On Friday, Albay was declared a state of calamity, which allows swifter access to emergency funds in the event of a major eruption.
On Thursday, authorities heightened the alert level for the volcano following a series of superheated streams composed of gas, debris and rocks that poured down its upper slope.
This signified that there was activity occurring beneath the surface, which could lead to a hazardous eruption within days or weeks.
Mayon, standing at 2,654 meters (8,710 feet), is a renowned tourist destination for its picturesque conical shape and is one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes. It had a major eruption in 2018, which violently displaced tens of thousands of residents in nearby communities.
Officials cautioned that Typhoon Guchol, which is advancing towards the Philippines from the Pacific Ocean but is expected to bypass the archipelago, could still bring significant rainfall, which may cause concern for communities residing near Mayon’s slopes.
Villamor Lopez, a house painter, expressed to The Associated Press his concerns about the possibility of floodwaters rushing down from Mayon and inundating his village due to the typhoon.
As he gazed anxiously at his worried relatives, their possessions precariously clutched in bags, the man sat perched on the back of a pickup truck. The vehicle was swiftly ferrying them and many other villagers away from their homes in Daraga, Albay to an emergency shelter located several kilometers away.
Amidst the chaos, some residents congregated on the side of the road, discussing their options and weighing the pros and cons of leaving. The laid-back community, characterized by modest rural houses and narrow dirt alleys, bore witness to the uncertainty of its residents.
The peace was jarringly shattered when the loudspeaker boomed through the air, warning the inhabitants to brace themselves for a possible evacuation at any moment, should conditions worsen.
All around them, the sky remained overcast and the volcano was obscured from view by thick, ominous rainclouds.
Dennis Bon, the village leader, was taking no chances when it came to evacuating the residents. Despite the urgency of the situation, he made sure that everyone was accounted for and comfortable before setting off for the shelter. “We have children, persons with disabilities, and elderly residents here,” he said solemnly.
Preparing for the worst-case scenario, Albay Governor Edcel Greco Lagman and Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian acknowledged the threat of mudflows and rockfalls brought on by the ongoing monsoon rains.
Despite the looming danger, they reassured the public that the authorities were adequately equipped and ready to handle any potential disasters.
“Our top priority is the safety and well-being of everyone in the affected areas,” Lagman said.
Gatchalian echoed the same sentiment, adding, “We will do everything in our power to ensure that no one loses their life or suffers undue harm.”
Despite the growing concerns and fears of many residents, some of those who have experienced Mayon’s eruptions over the years were taking the latest warnings in stride.
In Bonga village, which is located near the volcano, a few men bathed in a stream of spring water flowing from Mayon’s lush foothills and washed motorcycles near boulders that were as big as cars. These rocks had rolled down during past eruptions, serving as a reminder of the destructive power of the volcano.
When asked about the volcano’s new rumblings, the men just shrugged and smiled, showing a calm and collected demeanor in the face of potential danger.
Located along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an area where tectonic plates meet, the Philippines is prone to natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In 1991, a long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, erupted north of Manila, causing one of the most significant volcanic events of the 20th century and killing hundreds of people.