Mayon volcano in the Philippines could soon unleash a huge cloud of deadly gases and ash, experts warned yesterday, as 40,000 people prepared for a second week in crowded evacuation centers.
Four powerful ash explosions rocked the spectacular 2,460m peak on Saturday, covering nearby communities to the northwest with a light layer of dust, government vulcanologists said.
Mayon, where activity has picked up over the past week, is now belching a more lethal "pyroclastic flow" of hot volcanic gas and dust, rather than slow-moving lava, said Ed Laguerta, head of the volcano monitoring observatory.
Unlike the trails of lava that have been slowly flowing down the volcano's slopes for weeks, so-called "pyroclastic flows" can cover a wide area very swiftly, moving at speeds of about 60kph.
"We want to give the volcano a wide berth," said Ernesto Corpuz, head of the volcano monitoring division of the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology.
An eruption at Mayon in 1993 killed 77 people who were caught unaware by the deadly clouds of ash and gases.
The government has evacuated some 40,000 residents living in a 6km-to-8km danger zone around the volcano, herding them into 24 overcrowded evacuation centers, most of them schools.
But many residents still enter the danger zone to work on their farms, guard their belongings and attend to personal matters.
Busloads of evacuees could been seen leaving the center in Legaspi City yesterday to visit their homes in Bonga village, inside the danger zone, where people said they could hear a distant rumbling.
Seventy-four-year old farmer Maximo Aydalla said he was in Bonga on Saturday when the ash explosions took place.
"I saw the smoke rise and then fall but we were still at a safe distance. If it was going our way, we would have run," he said.