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Philippines evacuates people near the Mayon volcano amid signs of possible eruption

Mayon volcano in the central Philippines spewing white smoke
The Mayon volcano in the central Philippines spews white smoke Thursday, raising fears that it might erupt forcefully.
(John Michael Magdasoc / Associated Press)
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Philippine troops, police and rescue workers began forcibly evacuating residents near the Mayon volcano on Friday as its increasing unrest indicated that a violent eruption of one of the country’s most active volcanoes is possible within weeks or days.

The area within a nearly four-mile radius of Mayon’s crater is supposed to be off limits because of possible volcanic emissions, lava flows, rockfalls and other hazards. But many poor villagers have built houses and tended farms in Mayon’s danger zone over the years.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said an evacuation of residents from the permanent danger zone was underway and promised to provide aid to displaced people until the crisis ended.

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“Right now, what we are doing is preparing and moving people away from the area so that, should the time come … we’re ready,” Marcos told reporters, adding that he hoped Mayon would not erupt. “But unfortunately, science tells us that may happen because the lid or the cap on top of the lava is slowly rising.”

Authorities had raised the alert level for the volcano in northeastern Albay province Thursday after superheated streams of gas, debris and rocks cascaded down its upper slope, indicating activity below the surface that could precede a hazardous eruption.

Conditions advanced a little bit more Friday, although lava hasn’t started to flow, Marcos said.

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The numbers of residents being evacuated weren’t immediately available.

A tourist draw for its picturesque conical shape, 8,077-foot-tall Mayon last erupted violently in 2018, displacing tens of thousands of villagers.

Government volcano experts raised the alert level around Mayon to the third in a five-step warning system Thursday after detecting an increasing number of rockfalls and at least two volcanic earthquakes in recent days.

Six brief volcanic gas and ash emissions streamed down the volcano’s southern gullies about 1.2 miles from the crater Friday. Numerous rockfalls and thin ash and steam plumes that drifted south were also observed, the government volcanology institute said.

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Mayon is at “a relatively high level of unrest as magma is at the crater and hazardous eruption is possible within weeks or even days,” the institute said in its latest update Friday morning.

Mayon is one of the most restive of two dozen active volcanoes across the Philippines.

Officials also were closely monitoring Taal volcano south of Manila and Mt. Kanlaon on central Negros island because of renewed signs of restiveness.

A number of villages in three towns near Taal suspended classes Wednesday because of thick smog emanating from the volcano, and residents were advised to limit outdoor activities and wear masks for protection.

The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the area around the ocean rim where tectonic plates meet, making it prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A long-dormant volcano, Mt. Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.

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