By AARON B. RECUENCO
Five people reportedly died while at least seven others were injured when the famous Mayon Volcano in Albay erupted yesterday morning, a local official said.
Raffy Alejandro, director of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol region, said they are now focusing on the retrieval of the fatalities who were still trapped near Camp 2 as of yesterday morning.
“We have already dispatched several rescue teams there. The weather condition here is good so we are conﬁ dent that we can conduct the operations properly and in the soonest possible time,” said Alejandro in a phone interview.
Alejandro, however, said the casualty figures are yet to be validated as the information just came from tourist guides.
While the group of tourists is composed of locals and foreigners, Alejandro said they are yet to confirm for themselves if the four of the reported fatalities were indeed foreigners.
Quoting field reports, Alejandro said two groups of climbers suffered the casualties -the small group that went up via the Sto. Domingo town and the other from Malilipot town.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said it was the Malilipot Group that suffered the most, with five dead.
He said they are yet to confirm the status of the 15 others.
“The rescue operation is ongoing, we have already deployed several teams who have been trained to give basic life support,” said Salceda.
In a television interview, local tourist guide Kenneth Jesaliva said a total of four people died after being hit by boulders and small rocks. Three of them, he said, are foreigners.
Jukes Nunez, of the Albay Public Safety and Management Office, said two people have been confirmed dead by a tourist guide, one of them is a foreigner.
Nunez identified the possible exit points as those in Malilipot, Sto. Domingo and Bacacay towns.
Marti Calleja, a local tour operator, said his company had sought help to rescue five foreigners who had gone to climb Mayon with his outfit’s guides shortly before the explosion.
“It rained like hell with stones. It was sudden and there was no warning,” Calleja told AFP by telephone.
The group was trapped about half a kilometre (a third of a mile) below the crater, Calleja added.
Residents in towns around the picturesque volcano famous for its near-perfect cone said they were surprised by the sudden activity, which came as many were having breakfast.
“It was so sudden that many of us panicked,” Jun Marana, a 46-year-old bus driver and father of two, told AFP by telephone.
“When we stepped out we saw this huge column against the blue sky.”
Marana said the ash column was dispersed by winds after about an hour, but said he was not taking his chances and was prepared to leave his home anytime.
Mayon Volcano is situated virtually in the middle of Albay province.
Nunez earlier said they expect at least 10 to 20 people which is the usual number of tourists during May.
But the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said there was no cause for alarm as it was just a normal “phreatic” or steam eruption.
Ramil Vaquilar, science research analyst of Phivolcs, said the eruption occurred at 8 a.m. yesterday, which lasted for 73 seconds with gray to brown clouds reaching 500 meters above the summit.
There was no volcanic earthquake detected within the past 24 hours before the steam-driven eruption.
Phivolcs said there is no indication of volcanic activity intensiﬁ cation.
Alert Level 0 status remains. It means there is no magma eruption imminent.
However, small phreatic explosions including small steam and ash ejections may occur suddenly with little or no warning.
Phivolcs warned the public from entering the six-kilometer radius permanent danger zone (PDZ) due to threat of sudden steam-driven eruptions and rock falls from the upper and middle slopes of Mt. Mayon.
The active volcano’s last eruption activity was in December 2009. Phivolcs data showed that the volcano has 49 eruptions recorded in history. (with reports from AFP & Ellalyn B. de Vera)
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