Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Volcano spews lava as eruption looms

Fountains of red-hot lava shot up from the intensifying Mayon volcano as the Philippines awaited an imminent eruption, the country's national news agency reported Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of people have already fled their homes. More than 9,000 families -- a total of 44,394 people -- are being housed in evacuation camps after authorities raised the alert status of the country's most active volcano, Albay Province Gov. Joey Salceda said.

The Philippine Institute on Volcanology and Seismology was considering ratcheting up the volcano alert to the highest level, which would mean an eruption was underway, the Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported.

But officials said not everyone is heeding their warnings -- some villagers were spotted within the danger zone checking on their homes and farms on the foothills of the volcano.

The government is trying to enforce a "no man's land" rule in the designated danger zone, with military and police instructed to double the personnel manning the nine checkpoints and double their foot patrol operation inside the restricted area, PNA reported.

"Mayon continued to show an intense level of activity during the past 24-hour observation period. Seismic activity remained elevated in number and size as the seismic network detected a total of 1,266 volcanic earthquakes," it said in a statement about the last 24 hours to 7 a.m. local time on Tuesday (6 p.m. ET on Monday).

People in surrounding Albay Province have flocked to town centers to catch a glimpse of glowing lava cascading down the slopes of Mayon since the mountain began oozing fiery lava and belching clouds of ash last week.

The volcano, located about 500 km (310 miles) south of the Philippine capital of Manila, has erupted 49 times since its first documented eruption in 1616.

The Philippines is situated in the so-called Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Mayon's most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and devastated several towns. Its last major eruption was in 1993. Since then, it has remained restless, emitting ash and spewing lava.

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