Thousands flee volcanoes on two continents

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | March 2, 2000


Volcanoes in both the Philippines and Guatemala erupted this week, causing widespread evacuations and ongoing anxiety about future

eruptions in both places.

Mount Mayon, one of the Philippines' deadliest and most active volcanoes located about 200 miles southeast of Manila, sent lava 650 feet

into the sky, spewed out boulders the size of cars, and caused lava at temperatures above 1,000 degrees to ooze 3 1/2 miles down the

mountain.

In Guatemala, the government declared a state of red alert on Tuesday after the Pacaya volcano spewed ash over nearby villages in its

second eruption this year. Soldiers had been sent to the site to help evacuate local villages after the eruption began. Fifty residents of

Patrocinio village nearby had already been evacuated and residents of the village of San Vicente Pacaya were also moved to safety.

Guatemala's airport remained open. Pacaya last erupted on Jan. 16, forcing officials to evacuate three villages.

Elizabeth Griffin of AmeriCares indicated that the eruption in Guatemala was adding to the burden of the recovery that has been

continuing since Hurricane Mitch devastated so many people more than a year ago.

No casualties were reported during either eruption, although one woman suffered a heart attack in the Philippines during the eruption.

"The most vulnerable people were evacuated successfully," said Joan Cosby of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.

The growing number of evacuees in the Philippines is becoming overwhelming. Airborne burning boulders have frightened villagers, who

are pouring into evacuation centers, swelling the number of refugees to 65,000. Some 52 evacuation centers are serving all the displaced

people, and these facilities are currently extensively overcrowded.

Pyroclastic flows -- superheated clouds of ash and gas that travel at high speeds down the mountain -- have reached nearly four miles from

the crater and continue to threaten nearby villages, officials said.

Evacuees are wearing masks and tying cloths over their noses and mouths because the ash so heavily permeates the air. Many carry

umbrellas to shield themselves from ash as they wait in line to receive food rations. Health officials are worried about the spread of disease

in the cramped evacuation centers. Relief agencies have set up mobile hospitals around Mayon to treat people stricken with asthma and

other respiratory ailments. Philippine officials report an urgent need for more face masks to protect an estimated 200,000 to 300,000

villagers living closest to Mayon.

The heavy ash fall has also killed most of the fish being grown by about 50 fishpond operators, and 70 to 80 percent of rice produced in the

town also was destroyed. Fruit trees were extensively damaged as well.

Government officials report that they are concerned about how to provide income to farmers who have lost their crops.

Vulcanologists said the risk of casualties had lessened with the evacuation of villagers from within about four miles of Mayon's crater. So

far, no casualties have been reported, although authorities are concerned about farmers returning to their homes and farms to check on

their belongings, crops, and livestock. Evacuees have been returning to their villages for brief hours during the day to check their farms

before returning to evacuation centers at night.

Both the Philippine government and faith-based groups are concerned that the government's calamity fund will not be enough to support

the increasing number of evacuees for as long as a month. The volcano has been belching rocks and ash since Feb. 24. The blasts

periodically knock out power nearby areas but so far electricity has been quickly restored.

Member churches of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) have submitted requests for relief and an appeal by

Action by Churches Together (ACT) is forthcoming, according to ACT reports. The NCCP Relief and Rehabilitation Program will be

moving to Legazpi City for its relief operations where the United Church of Christ has offered its South Bicol Conference Office as the

center for operations.

ACT and NCCP have begun needs assessments, and Church World Service is awaiting further word regarding an appeal and is prepared

to respond accordingly. Week of Compassion, a giving program coordinated through the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is also

awaiting further word from ACT about a possible appeal and will respond.

World Vision is providing $41,000 in initial aid to distribute emergency supplies to 1,000 families who were forced from their homes.

A team of U.S. diplomats and military officers also visited evacuation centers on Wednesday to see what assistance the United States

government could provide.

When Mount Mayon exploded in 1993, it killed 77 people, most from the village of Bonga on the southeast slopes of Mayon. Scientists have

warned that more explosions were possible. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) reported that the

eruption may continue for two to three months as has happened in previous eruptions. The most vulnerable are the towns of St. Domingo,

Tabaco, Camalig, Daraga, Manlilipot, Bacay, Ligao, Guinobatan, and the city of Legazpi.

Mayon is one of the Philippines' 22 active volcanoes. It killed 1,200 people in its deadliest eruption in 1814.


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