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People watch as lava and ashes flow from the Mayon Volcano, which remains under alert level 3, in Albay province, Philippines, on 12 June 2023. (Photo by Lisa Marie David/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Slow Eruption From Philippines' Mayon Volcano Displaces Tens of Thousands

An ongoing volcanic eruption on a Philippine island is displacing tens of thousands of residents, with authorities estimating that the event could emit lava, ash, and noxious fumes for weeks or months.

On the island of Luzon, Mount Mayon began expelling lava and an estimated 149 tons of sulfur dioxide on the evening of 11 June. Currently, the volcano is still spewing ash, lava, and sulfur dioxide—activity that initiated evacuations of the surrounding area. Authorities ordered people living within a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) radius around Mayon to leave, and more than 15,000 people moved into emergency shelters to avoid lava flows, rockfalls, and other associated dangers.

Tens of thousands of residents are expected to be displaced for months while the volcano continues to erupt. A large number of cattle and water buffalo were also moved away from the evacuation zone.

The volcano is the most active in the nation and is located in the Albay province. Rising to 8,077 feet, Mayon’s iconic conical shape draws in tourists visiting the Philippines, and the Mayon Volcano Natural Park is on the tentative list of sites that may qualify as a World Heritage Site.

On 15 June at 8 a.m. local time, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology announced that within the past 24 hours there were two volcanic earthquakes and 306 rockfall events recorded. The previous day’s report indicated seven volcanic earthquakes and 309 rockfalls.

Currently, the volcano is under an Alert Level 3, “which means that it is currently in a relatively high level of unrest as magma is at the crater and hazardous eruption is possible within weeks or even days,” according to the bulletin. There are five levels in this warning system addressing volcanic activity.

Currently, the eruption is not violent, with authorities hoping that it remains so. The last violent eruption occurred “in 2018, displacing tens of thousands. In 1814, Mayon’s eruption buried entire villages and left more than 1,000 people dead,” according to the Associated Press (AP).

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology’s monitoring and eruption prediction division noted that the volcano is exhibiting “peculiar activity that may signal a gentler eruption,” according to TIME. “Levels of sulfur dioxide, which is typically released when magma is near the surface, is currently in the hundreds of tons, and volcanoes usually release at least thousands of tons of the gas before an explosive eruption.”

However, authorities and experts still caution that this could change and advise that residents and tourists remain vigilant.

The ongoing earthquakes and rockfalls, as well as the gases coming from the volcano’s crater, still pose a danger and can be difficult to outrun, as noted by Teresito Bacolcol, the nation’s chief volcanologist.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., sent officials to the area to assist in distributing food aid and provide reassurance to the area’s populace. “The eruption is the latest natural calamity to test the (Marcos administration), who took office in June last year and inherited an economy that was shattered by two years of the coronavirus pandemic, which also deepened poverty and unemployment,” the AP reported.