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Mayon quieting down

Phivolcs may lower alert level in 3 days

By Alcuin Papa, Rey M. Nasol, Inquirer Southern Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:18:00 01/01/2010

Filed Under: Volcanic activity, Disasters (general)

MANILA, Philippines?Volcanologist on Friday said they might lower the alert level around Mayon Volcano in the next few days amid signs the mountain appeared to be quieting down, three weeks after it began spewing ash and lava.

No ash explosion was observed over the past 24 hours and rumblings have lessened significantly, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said Friday.

?If no significant events should occur during the next few days,? the agency said it would ?consider the possibility of lowering the alert level from 4 to 3.?

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda expressed relief at the news, saying that the worst appeared to be over.

?It really looks like Mayon drops dead. This is the first time in its recorded history,? he said.

?It seems that God answered our prayers and saw the collective preparations of a united people,? Salceda said.

3-day wait

Phivolcs will wait at least three days before it makes the recommendation, if any, to lower the alert level, said research scientist Alex Baloloy.

Authorities are continuing to maintain level 4 of a 5-level alert status around the volcano, meaning that a major ?hazardous? eruption is imminent. Level 3 means this kind of eruption is possible within weeks.

Around 50,000 people living in an 8-kilometer radius danger zone around Mayon were evacuated when Phivolcs raised the alert level to 4 on Dec. 20.

Mayon first began rumbling days earlier, oozing lava and sending plumes of ash into the air.

The eerie spectacle saw the 2,460-meter volcano?s peak glowing with crimson lava at night, and forced tens of thousands of evacuees to spend Christmas in packed evacuation centers.

Mayon continued to rumble with restiveness into the new year, as earthquakes and white steam could be observed on Thursday.

Phivolcs said it detected 28 volcanic earthquakes and 91 rock fall events, or the detachment of lava fragments on the volcano?s upper slopes.

While there were no ash explosions, weak to moderate emissions of white steam at the summit crater could be seen during cloud breaks during the early morning and late afternoon.

?Flowing lava and intermittent rolling incandescent lava fragments were observed last night (Thursday),? Phivolcs said.

The sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission rate was measured at an average of 1,255 tons per day.

Warnings continue

Despite the possibility of the alert level being lowered, Phivolcs said it was ?still strongly? reiterating its warning that the extended danger zones of 8 km on the volcano?s southern sector and 7 km on the northern sector be left free of human activity.

The agency said river channels in the southern sector, especially those identified to be lahar-prone, should also be avoided, especially during bad weather conditions or when there is heavy and prolonged rainfall.

Phivolcs also stressed that airline pilots avoid flying close to the volcano?s summit as ejected ash and volcanic fragments from sudden explosions may pose some hazard to aircraft.

Salceda said that at alert level 3, the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) will retain in the evacuation centers the 2,728 families from the 6-km permanent danger zone and let the 7,218 families from the 7-to-8 km extended danger zones return to their homes.

School reopening

He said the PDCC had been working closely with the Department of Education to minimize any disruptions in the scheduled reopening of classes on Jan. 4.

Salceda said there would be no need to put up the tents that are being prepared for the school reopening if Phivolcs would be lowering the alert level in a few days.

He also said that power and water services would be restored in the danger-zone areas as soon as the alert level 4 has been lowered to 3.

Salceda said disaster officials and residents were quite relieved at the news that the alert level would be lowered and thanked national government agencies, especially the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Department of Health, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, international nongovernmental organizations, and the United Nations agencies and civic organizations.

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