Saturday 15 December 2018

Philippines eyes turning volcano villages into ‘no man’s land’

Thousands of people have fled the area as Mayon belches red-hot lava and columns of ash.

Molten lava flows down the slopes of Mayon volcano (AP)
Molten lava flows down the slopes of Mayon volcano (AP)

By Joeal Calupitan

The Philippine defence chief has recommended that villages in a danger zone around erupting Mount Mayon should be turned into a permanent “no man’s land” to avoid evacuating thousands of residents each time the country’s most active volcano explodes.

President Rodrigo Duterte expressed support for the plan by Delfin Lorenzana during a meeting with officials dealing with the two-week eruption of Mayon.

However, Mr Duterte said the government may have to expropriate land from private owners in order to bring the plan to fruition, and added that such a move could spark “a social problem again”.

Mayon has been belching red-hot lava fountains, huge columns of ash and molten rocks into the sky and plunging communities into darkness with falling ash in north-eastern Albay province, about 200 miles south-east of Manila. More than 80,000 villagers have fled to dozens of schools turned into emergency shelters, where a lack of toilets and other problems with congestion have emerged.

A view of the eruption from Legazpi city, Albay province (AP)

The proposal is complicated given that thousands of impoverished villagers have settled through the years in a government-declared 3.7-mile permanent danger zone around Mayon, where they have survived on farming for generations.

Authorities expanded the danger zone to cover more communities and forced thousands more to swarm into dozens of emergency school shelters. Albay governor Al Francis Bichara told the president and other officials that his provincial disaster funds were running low.

Albay officials declared the entire province of more than 1.3 million people under a state of calamity two weeks ago to allow faster releases of disaster funds. Mr Duterte ordered the provision of additional funds to deal with the crisis.

The army is preparing to be deployed as conditions worsen (AP)

While thousands have evacuated areas around the volcano, villagers have sneaked back in to check on their homes, farms and animals, and police and army troops have struggled to turn back tourists who want a closer view of Mayon.

Mayon, which is famous for its near-perfect cone, has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years. In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers who had ventured near the summit despite warnings.

The Philippines has about 22 active volcanoes. The explosion of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.

Press Association

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