15,000 Albay folk brace for life in shelters ‘for months’
LEGAZPI CITY, Albay, Philippines — Some 15,000 people who fled their homes around the rumbling Mayon Volcano in Albay province may have to remain in temporary shelters for months, authorities said on Tuesday, as the volcano continued to spew lava and noxious gases.
Incandescent lava was seen flowing slowly from the mouth of the 2,462-meter volcano, which was placed on a high alert level last week following seismic tremors and hundreds of rockfall events.
According to the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, a total of 4,286 families, or 15,241 people, were staying in evacuation centers.
They are being housed in 14 public schools, 10 local government-owned evacuation centers, and other buildings in the cities of Ligao and Tabaco, and Sto. Domingo, Malilipot, Guinobatan, Camalig and Daraga towns.
“Based on our previous experiences, this volcanic activity may persist for a few months,” Teresito Bacolcol, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), said in a radio interview, adding that residents living within a 6-kilometer radius of the volcano, the designated permanent danger zone, would have to stay in evacuation centers.
Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office officer in charge Eugene Escobar said the provincial government was “looking at a 90-day evacuation.”
“The longest that we had for Mayon Volcano was more than five months and we were able to sustain that,” he said in a television interview.
Test of stamina, patience
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda appealed for “patience and stamina” from government agencies extending predisaster relief and evacuation support for thousands of affected residents, noting that the wait for an actual eruption could take weeks or months.
“Historically, the scenarios are 45, 90, or 110 days. It could be even longer than that. This will be a waiting game,” he said in a statement.
“Until an explosive eruption happens, or the alert level goes down, we can’t really do much other than evacuate and wait. So this will really require stamina and patience,” said Salceda, who represents Albay’s second district, where five towns are located within the danger zone.
In a radio interview, Larry Llenaresas, an Albay community leader, said there was a need for more food and drinking water for the displaced.
Evacuees are also struggling with nonfunctional toilets and a lack of water supply, said Dr. Rosa Maria Balisnomo-Rempillo, chief of the local health support division and communications management unit of the Department of Health in Bicol.
Hugo Buen, chief of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office in Tabaco City, said toilets were clogged in some areas while there was a water shortage in others.
“We are doing some remedies by installing temporary latrines, but these are still manageable since the evacuees are not yet congested in the evacuation areas,” Buen said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
President Marcos, who is scheduled to visit Albay on Wednesday, is “monitoring the situation carefully,” Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian told a Palace briefing on Tuesday.
He said the President ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to look into giving out cash assistance to affected families besides family food packs.
Mayon is among the most active of the Philippines’ 24 volcanoes, having erupted more than 50 times in the last four centuries. Its most destructive eruption came in February 1814 when lava flows buried a town and killed 1,200 people.
In its Tuesday bulletin, Phivolcs noted a very slow outflow of lava from the summit’s crater over the past 24 hours.
Only one volcanic earthquake was monitored compared to the 21 instances recorded on Sunday and rockfall events also slightly dipped from an average of 260 to 221 on Monday.
Sulfur dioxide emissions increased slightly from 642 tons on Sunday to 723 tons on Monday.
Phivolcs also monitored a moderate emission of the plume with a northeast drift and one pyroclastic density current event in the volcano, which still remains under alert level 3.
Classes in 18 schools in the Bicol region have been suspended.
In its June 12 situation report, the Department of Education (DepEd) said several schools in Camalig, Daraga, Guinobatan, Malilipot, Ligao City, and Tabaco City had suspended classes.
According to DepEd, two schools are situated within the 6-km permanent danger zone of Mayon Volcano while 45 schools are within the 7- to 8-km danger zone.
Also on Tuesday, the DSWD and the Department of the Interior and Local Government thanked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for donating over 50 tons of food for the families affected by the volcanic activity.
Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos extended the President’s gratitude to UAE’s royal family and government, saying it was “the very first international aid that we received for the victims of Mayon volcano unrest.”
The donated goods, including rice, cooking oil, powdered milk, salt, and sugar, were flown via a chartered flight.