Philippine Officials: Volcano May Erupt

The Associated Press
Friday, August 4, 2006; 8:22 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- The government has deployed troops to keep sightseers away from the edge of advancing lava from Mayon volcano, and officials warned Friday that a violent eruption could occur within weeks or days.

Lava began flowing July 14 and the smoldering mound of molten rocks has extended beyond a 3.75-mile "danger zone" on the southeastern slopes of the Philippines' most active volcano.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology maintained the third of a five-stage alert level, warning of a possible hazardous eruption within weeks or days.

"But of course, we are saying (the people near the volcano) should be ready because it can change anytime," said chief volcanologist Renato Solidum.

The danger is not only from a collapse of the lava dome, Solidum said, but a sudden explosive eruption that could send pyroclastic flows _ clouds of superheated gas and ash _ racing down the slopes of the volcano.

Cedric Daep, the disaster officer for Albay province where the volcano is located, about 210 miles southeast of Manila, said workers have put up signs warning against venturing closer than 4.4 miles from the crater on the southeastern side of the 8,118-foot mountain.

Soldiers also have been posted on trails to bar people from getting closer to the lava flow, he said.

Dozens of sightseers, including some foreign tourists, have been coming as close as several yards from the lava mound to watch in awe as red-hot boulders roll down as the lava inches its way down the slopes.

The amount of sulfuric gas emitted by the volcano has decreased and the number of volcanic earthquakes went down early Friday, Solidum said.

However, those indicators of volcanic activity were "still above the normal values," Solidum said.

He said the current volcanic activity could lead to two possible outcomes _ a continuous quiet flow of lava, which is rare, or an explosive eruption with tall columns of ash and pyroclastic flows, which characterizes most Mayon eruptions.

Mayon is one of the Philippines' 22 active volcanos. Its most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried a town in mud. A 1993 eruption killed 79 people.

The Philippines is in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where volcanic activity and earthquakes are common.

© 2006 The Associated Press