Deadly Mudflows Threaten Residents Near Erupting Philippine Volcano

Millions of tonnes of ash and rock from an erupting Philippine volcano could bury nearby communities due to heavy rain, authorities said Saturday, as tens of thousands flee over fears of a deadly explosion.

The official Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) issued the warning as heavy rains lashed the area surrounding the Mayon volcano, which has been emitting flaming lava and giant clouds of superheated ash for the past week.

Rainwater could combine with the volcanic ash and rock to form deadly, fast-moving mudflows—called “lahars”—that could sweep away entire settlements, it said.

“The important thing is to move out in case of heavy rains… this is a precautionary measure,” Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum told AFP.

The institute earlier said that 25 million cubic metres (about 883 million cubic feet) of ash and other volcanic material had recently been emitted by Mayon, settling on its slopes and elsewhere nearby.

It warned that this could result in lahars flowing into waterways, and called on officials to move residents near rivers to higher ground.

An explosion of the 2,460-metre (8,070-foot) Mayon in August 2006 did not directly kill anyone but four months later, a typhoon unleashed an avalanche of volcanic mud from its slopes that claimed 1,000 lives.

Phivolcs said Mayon had emitted fountains of lava on Friday but bad weather was preventing observation of the volcano’s activity on Saturday.

Cement swept away

Residents living by a river in Daraga town in Albay province expressed fear of a repeat of the 2006 incident.

“We are worried that lahar will flow again. We cannot sleep soundly at night. We sleep like chickens, waking up at the slightest rumble of the volcano,” Virginia Tuscano, 47, told AFP as rain poured outside her home.

“Back in 2006 the lahar flow was so powerful it was like waves sweeping away even homes made of cement.”

The mother-of-three said she had packed her bags and was ready to leave her home.

Observers saw a shroud of steam covering the entire mountain as heavy rain met the hot lava and volcanic material on Mayon’s slopes.

Steam could also be seen rising from the volcano’s crater as rainwater entered its interior.

Volcanic mudflows are a perennial problem during and after volcanic eruptions in the Philippines, which sits on the “Ring of Fire”—islands in the Pacific that were formed by volcanic activity.

The government has already evacuated more than 84,000 people from a “danger zone” stretching as far as nine kilometres (six miles) around Mayon over fears of a possible deadly eruption.

Provincial disaster relief head Cedric Daep said he expects the number of people evacuated to increase as residents flee from areas threatened by lahar.

Mixed blessing

However, the rains were also washing away the thick, choking carpet of ash that has covered many communities in the shadow of Mayon in the past week, Daep said.

“The rains also washed away the ashes on grasslands. That means that cattle could now feed on the grasses which they could not do in the past days,” he added.

Mayon, located about 330 kilometres (205 miles) southeast of the capital Manila, is the most active of the country’s 22 volcanoes—and one of the deadliest.

Four foreign tourists and their local tour guide were killed when it last erupted in May 2013.

In 1814, more than 1,200 people were killed when lava flows buried the nearby town of Cagsawa.

UPDATE : Philippines Volcano Lava Display One Of The Biggest Yet As Alert Level Rises, Scientists Say

The Philippines’ most active volcano erupted three more times on Tuesday, with one blast generating one of most massive lava displays since it started acting up more than a week ago, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology says.

The eruptions occurred a day after officials raised Mount Mayon’s alert level to four on a scale of five. Lava fountains gushed up 2,300 feet above Mayon’s crater and ash plumes rose up to 1.9 miles Monday night.

“We couldn’t sleep last night because of the loud rumblings. It sounded like an airplane that’s about to land,” Quintin Velardo, a 59-year-old farmer, told The Associated Press at an evacuation center in nearby Legazpi city where he took his wife, children and grandchildren on Tuesday.

More than 56,000 villagers have fled to evacuation centers so far as the eruptions become increasingly dangerous. The volcano last erupted in 2014, according to Reuters.

Velardo said he need to return to his village though, about 5 miles from the volcano, to take his cow and water buffalo to safety. A few minutes later, the volcano belched a massive column of grayish ash that punched through white clouds into the blue sky.

“There it goes again,” Velardo said as his family huddled near him.

Authorities warned a violent eruption may occur in hours or days, characterized by more rumblings and pyroclastic flows — superheated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at high speeds, vaporizing everything in their path.

Officials in Albay province, where Mount Mayon and Legazpi are, shuttered the regional airport Tuesday because of ashfall, impacting 25 flights, Reuters reported. Three towns in the area also closed public and private offices to keep workers away.

After Monday’s explosion, officials raised Mayon’s alert level, and the danger zone was expanded to 5 miles from the crater, requiring thousands more residents to be evacuated, including at least 12,000 who returned to their homes last week as Mayon’s rumblings temporarily eased. This week, they scrambled back to the emergency shelters.

At least 56,217 people were taking shelter in 46 evacuation camps Tuesday and army troops and police were helping move more villagers from their homes, officials said.

Authorities struggled to prevent villagers from sneaking back to check on their homes and farms and to watch a popular cockfight in Albay’s Santo Domingo town despite the risks and police patrols and checkpoints, said Cedric Daep, a provincial disaster response official.

In a sign of desperation, Daep told a news conference that he has recommended electricity and water supplies be cut in communities within the no-go zones to discourage residents from returning.

“If pyroclastic flows hit people, there is no chance for life,” Daep said. “Let us not violate the natural law, avoid the prohibited zone, because if you violate, the punishment is the death penalty.”

The daytime eruptions have plunged nearby villages into darkness and sent lava, rocks and debris cascading down Mayon’s slopes toward the no-entry danger zone. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

Volcanic ash fell Monday in more than a dozen towns in coconut-growing Albay and nearby Camarines Sur province, with visibility heavily obscured in a few towns because of the thick gray ash, Jukes Nunez, another Albay provincial disaster response officer, said by telephone.

“It was like nighttime at noon, there was zero visibility in some areas because the ash fall was so thick,” Nunez said.

More than 30,000 ash masks and about 5,000 sacks of rice, along with medicine, water and other supplies, were being sent to evacuation centers, Office of Civil Defense regional director Claudio Yucot said late Monday.

Food packs, water, medicine and other relief goods remain adequate but may run out by mid-February if the eruption continues and new supplies fail to come on time, officials said.

With its near-perfect cone, Mayon has long been popular with climbers and tourists but has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, sometimes violently. The 8,070-foot volcano has generated tourism revenues and jobs in Albay, about 210 miles southeast of Manila.

In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers who had ventured near the summit despite warnings. Its most destructive eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried the town of Cagsawa in volcanic mud. The belfry of Cagsawa’s stone church still juts from the ground in an eerie reminder of Mayon’s fury.

Since childhood, Velardo, the farmer, said he has gambled his and his family’s lives in Mayon’s shadow but that he and thousands of other landless farmers have no place else to go. “I tell my grandchildren to study hard so they can live elsewhere without a volcano to keep an eye on all your life.”

The Seemingly Unremarkable Crystals That Could Help Predict Volcanic Eruptions

They may look inconspicuous and unremarkable, and most people wouldn’t notice them, but small crystals in volcanic rocks, such as lava, may hold the key to better understanding advance warnings of volcanic eruptions.

The crystals form inside the volcano when molten rock—magma—starts moving upwards from depths of up to 30 km towards the Earth’s surface. The crystals are carried in the erupting magma, and they often continue to grow as they are being transported. Importantly, they also change in composition on their way to the surface.

Two scientists—Dr Teresa Ubide from the University of Queensland, and Professor Balz Kamber from Trinity College Dublin—conducted the research in a project funded mainly by Science Foundation Ireland. They used a laser technique to examine the inside of these crystals in a novel way. And what they discovered is that the crystals contain a memory in the form of growth layers that look similar to tree rings. Reading the history from these layers may lead to more effective volcanic hazard monitoring, including for dormant volcanoes.

Dr Ubide said: “They essentially ‘record’ the processes right before the eruption starts. At Mount Etna, we found that the arrival of new magma at 10 km depth is a very efficient trigger of eruptions—and within only two weeks.”

“In this case, therefore, earth tremors at the depth of magma recharge must be taken as serious signs of potential imminent eruptions. At other volcanoes, the method will allow to establish the relationship between recharge depth, recharge frequency and eruption efficiency. This can then help scientists to better relate physical signs of recharge to eruption potential.”

The findings have just been published in leading international journal Nature Communications. The research was conducted on Mount Etna, in Sicily, which is Europe’s most active volcano. Dr Ubide’s team is now planning to expand the approach to other volcanoes around the world, and to combine the information with geophysical signs of magma movement.

It remains very difficult to predict volcanic eruptions – as evidenced by the eruption at Mount Agung in Bali, which started last November after two months of precursory earthquakes. It led to the evacuation of over 70,000 people and caused massive disruptions in air traffic and tourism, affecting over 100,000 travellers.

Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Trinity, Balz Kamber, added: “The new approach may also prove useful for studying volcanoes that have remained dormant, such as the currently erupting volcano on Kadovar Island, Papua New Guinea.”

“For many volcanoes there is no eruption history, but geologists can collect lavas from past eruptions and study their crystals.”

Large Volcanic Island Flank Collapses Trigger Catastrophic Eruptions

New research, published today in Nature Scientific Reports, not only implies a link between catastrophic volcanic eruptions and landslides, but also suggests that landslides are the trigger.

At the heart of Tenerife and standing almost 4 km high, Teide is one of the largest volcanoes on Earth. Over a period of several hundred thousand years, the previous incarnations of Teide have undergone a repeated cycle of very large eruptions, collapse, and regrowth. Previous research by scientists at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) revealed that past eruptions may have been linked to huge multi-stage submarine landslides, based on similar ages and composition of landslide and volcanic deposits.

By studying these landslide deposits further, NOC scientists noticed that material from explosive volcanic eruptions was only found in the uppermost layers of each landslide deposit. This demonstrates that the initial stages of each landslide occurred underwater and before each eruption, whilst in each case the later stages of terrestrial landsliding occurred after the eruption. These results suggest that the initial stages of the landslides may have triggered each of the eruptions.

The scientists then investigated the thin volcanic clay layers between landslide and eruption deposits, and based upon the time required for clay to settle out of the ocean, estimated the minimum time delay between the initial submarine landslide and a subsequent eruption as approximately ten hours.

NOC scientist and lead author of this research, Dr James Hunt, said “Crucially, this new research shows that after the initial submarine landslide there could be between ten hours to several weeks until the eruption is finally triggered – very different from the near-instantaneous landslide triggering of the 1980 Mt St Helens eruption. This information could help inform hazard mitigation strategies for volcanoes similar to Teide, such as Mt St Helens or Montserrat.”

Dr Hunt suggests this delay could be because the shallow magma chamber in Teide does not contain enough volatiles (water) to immediately create explosive eruptions. However, removal of volcanic material by landslides may trigger magma to rise from the lower volatile-rich magma chamber, which mixes with the shallow magma, causing explosive volcanic eruptions after a delay and leaving a large crater-like feature called a caldera that may be several kilometres across. These ‘caldera-forming’ eruptions are among the largest volcanic eruptions on Earth and involve energies equivalent to an atom bomb explosion, while the associated landslides are among the largest mass movements on Earth and can generate potentially damaging tsunamis.

This new understanding of the linkage between large volcanic islands and caldera-forming eruptions will help advise future geohazard assessments of volcanic islands, and forms part of the NOC’s on-going research into marine geohazards.

Mount Mayon Volcano: Philippines Fears Violent Eruption

The Philippines raised the alert level at its most active volcano, Mount Mayon, on Monday after fresh activity.

Mayon has been spewing lava and a cloud of ash since 13 January, forcing more than 40,000 residents to flee their homes in the central province of Albay.

Authorities raised the alert level to four on a scale of five because a hazardous and violent eruption is expected within days.

An 8km (five mile) exclusion zone has been put in place around the volcano.

Authorities have shut schools and urged residents to remain indoors, as the volcano’s huge plume of smoke now reaches 10km into the sky.

Albay province has run out of emergency funds, said provincial governor Al Francis Bichara, and more people would be evacuated once federal financial help arrived.

“In some areas… it’s already zero visibility, especially along the foot of the volcano,” he told CNN Philippines, adding that strong winds could carry ash to distant towns.

Fine ash and sand fell on Legazpi, a city of about 200,000 people, and nearby areas after a recent explosion turned day into darkness, forcing motorists to switch on their lights and use windscreen wipers, Agence France-Presse reported.

“I had to stop because my helmet had filled up with ash,” Girlie Panesa, 39, told AFP as she parked her motorcycle by the roadside in the nearby town of Ligao.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, which monitors the island nation’s 22 active volcanoes, expects the explosions to continue.

“There is a possibility of a dangerous eruption, the start of which we are already witnessing,” the institute’s director, Renato Solidum, told a news conference in the nation’s capital Manila.

Mayon, a near-perfect cone, is 2,460m (8,070ft ) high and last erupted in 2014. In 1814 it covered the town of Cagsawa, killing more than 1,000 people.

Scientist Says Volcano Could Erupt In Papua New Guinea Soon

CANBERRA, Australia – Seismic activity beneath a Papua New Guinea volcano could mean that a major eruption was imminent, a scientist said Thursday. Thousands of people have been evacuated from islands surrounding Kadovar Island off the South Pacific nation’s north coast since a volcano there began erupting on Jan. 5, spouting ash. Flights nearby have been canceled due to the risk posed by ash plumes and ships were warned to stay away from the island.

Steve Saunders, principal geodetic surveyor at the Rabaul Volcano Observatory in Papua New Guinea, said seismic activity had recently increased beneath the volcano.

“The reason we’re getting activity is probably because new magma is moving up from deeper down,” Saunders told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has said state resources were being made available to support evacuations and he warned northern coastal communities to be alert for possible tsunamis. Kadovar is offshore to the north of New Guinea, the larger island that includes Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby.

Aikari Muri, the International Red Cross’ disaster risk management logistics officer for Papua New Guinea, said the military had used two boats to completely evacuate the 600 Kadovar residents to the mainland.

He could not say whether the evacuations of nearby islands had been completed by Thursday.

Papua New Guinea sits on the “Ring of Fire,” a line of seismic faults encircling the Pacific that has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Kadovor Islanders evacuated

Close to six hundred Kadovar islanders in East Sepik Province have been evacuated from the island.

East Sepik Governor Allan Bird says the people have been moved to nearby Ruprup Island.

Mr Bird commended two councilors on the Island who had organized the evacuation over the weekend.

“Two very good local leaders organized the entire evacuation on the island.

They managed to evacuate 591 men,women and children without any outside assistance.

“So I want to make special mention of those two for their leadership on the ground and for the cooperation that everyone was able to show which resulted with no casualties.

The evacuation follows a renewed spewing of smoke and ash last Friday, from the volcano on the island that has been dormant for many years.

Meantime Governor Bird, says food and water supplies will be delivered to the evacuated islanders.

He says with close to 600 evacuated from Kadovar Island plus those on Ruprup, the Government will need to feed approximately 2000 people.

“There’s food been organized by the prime minister’s department.

“They’ve run out of water on Ruprup because the 1,300 people on Ruprup, that island can only support the certain number of people, and in about the last 5 or 6 days with all 600 odd people from Kadowar, food and water has already run out on the island so our immediate priority is to try to get the landing craft out there with food and water within the next 24 hours and we are working on that now.

“We are hoping to get enough food for say 2000 people for maybe two weeks.

And within that time we have to come up with an action plan to evacuate all three islands.”

Plans are underway to have islanders on the Schouten Islands in East Sepik Province permanently resettled along the coast of Turubu.

Governor Allan Bird says this will include Kadovar, Ruprup and Biem, which are all volcanic islands.

Mr Bird adds that the Provincial Administration and relevant stakeholders are now working on a relocation plan to have these group of islanders moved to the safety of Turubu, east of Wewak town.

“The advise from the Rabaul Volcano Observatory is that given the shallowness of the area and the type of volcano that Kadovar is, it is likely to cause a tsunami when it explodes.

“Given the over population of the island the plan is to relocate to the coast on the mainland at Turubu.

“Turubu is ideal because its not heavily populated, the people on the Schouten Islands have traditional ties with the people on the mainland for a long, long time, and there’s already some agreement and surveys done about moving the Schouten Islands people to the mainland.”