Lahar, floods threaten Albay as Mayon spews ash, lava

FIELD OF GRAY. A farmer gathers tomatoes from an ash-sprinkled field in Guinobatan town, Albay, as Mount Mayon continues to blanket surrounding communities with ash.

LEGAZPI CITY — Residents near the restive Mayon Volcano in Albay should brace for possible onslaught of lahar as occasional heavy rains loom over the Bicol Region due to a low-pressure area (LPA) east of the country.

As of Thursday morning, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) estimated that the LPA is 95 kilometers east of Butuan City in Agusan del Norte.

It warned of possible flash floods or landslides that could be triggered by light to moderate with at times heavy rains over Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate, Sorsogon, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, Samar, Southern Leyte, Quezon, Romblon, northern part of Cebu, Dinagat Islands, and Surigao del Norte including Siargao Islands.

Volcanologists said Mayon, which has been erupting for almost two weeks, still appears to be swelling with magma under the surface.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said tremors, pyroclastic flows, and emissions of sulfur dioxide were detected Wednesday and early Thursday.

Between 6:02 a.m. Wednesday to 3 a.m. Thursday, six episodes of “intense but sporadic” lava fountaining from the volcano’s summit were observed, which lasted for nine to 58 minutes.

Lava fountains reaching 400 to 500 meters high generated ash plumes that reached three to five kilometers above the crater.

Phivolcs said lava flows were observed cascading down the Mi-isi and Bonga Gullies, sprayed near-vent lava spatter, and fed incandescent rockfall on the summit area.

Pyroclastic density currents on gullies heading towardthe Mi-isi, Lidong/Basud, and Buyuan Channels were also observed.

The runout of pyroclastic flows on the Buyuan Channel is now exceeding five kilometers from the summit crater, Phivolcs pointed out.

In addition, a total of 13 tremors, six of which corresponded to the lava fountaining events, two episodes of pyroclastic density current generation from lava collapse, and numerous rockfall events were recorded by Mayon’s seismic monitoring network.

Rockfall events were generated by the collapsing lava front and margins of the advancing lava flow on the Mi-isi Gully and by shedding from the summit dome onto the Bonga Gully.

Currently, the Mi-isi and Buyuan lava flows have advanced to three kilometers and one kilometer, respectively, from the summit crater.

More than 74,000 people are staying in dozens of emergency shelters as Mayon continues to belch lava, ash, and superheated gas and rocks. Officials are worried the eruption may last for months, affecting the education, health, and livelihoods of people in its shadow.

“If we go back to its (Mayon’s) history of eruption, it would take three to four months before we could send them back to their homes,” Rose Rivero, Red Cross administrator for the region, told AFP.

With tons of ashes ejected by Mayon Volcano already covering thousands of hectares of agricultural land, the provincial government of Albay is heading toward economic disaster.

Cheryll Rebeta, head of the Provincial Agriculture Office, said more than 5,000 farmers are currently jobless today, most of them in the first and second districts of Albay where the ashes are being dumped.

“Albay is an agriculture province which means that most of the residents here are dependent on their production for their staple and for their income,”Rebeta said in an interview here.

“Right now, most of our farmers could not plant anymore and almost all of those they have already planted were already damaged by the ashes,” she added.

For rice production for instance, there are 3,516 hectares of ricefields here but 2,934 hectares were already blanketed with thick ashes.

The damage to the rice production, as of Thursday, has already reached P73 million, with 2,044 farmers affected.

For corn, there are 45 hectares of land being planted with corn around Albay but 36.5 hectares of them were already affected.

The cost of damage is at P7.6 million so far with more than 36 farmers affected.
There are 305 hectares of land for coconut in Ligao City and Oas town alone but 250 hectares of them were already veiled by ashes which continue to be dumped in the area since Monday.

On the other hand, 805 hectares of the 958 hectares for vegetables and assorted crops were no longer usable – affecting 3,092 farmers.

Dr. Cedric Daep, head of the Albay Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC), said they expect more reports of damage in the coming days.

“But we are not talking about rice, corn, coconut, and other crops, we are also expecting heavy damage on the fisheries sector,” said Daep.

“When they are all affected, the possible implication of this is economic disaster,” said Daep.

Currently, the total amount of damage to agriculture in Albay is at around P200 million.

Farmer Joselito Madrano could not help but scratch his head in disappointment after visiting his gabi plantation area near a river in Barangay Muladbucad Grande, Guinobatan.

Almost all of the leaves are now yellowish and for a small farmer like him, it means a big loss in their income.

“It’s the ash. It is destroying our plants,” he said.

The gabi leaves being harvested from his mini-farm are being sold every market day here – Thursday and Sunday.

In some cases, they also supply gabi leaves to some popular stores in the nearby town of Camalig which is famous for local delicacy pinangat and laing.

Madrano said that in ordinary days, he would earn almost three thousand every week for his gabi leaves.

But with the destruction wrought by the ashes, he said rhe most he could earn for the entire next month is P200.

Daep explained that the ash turns into acid after interacting with morning dew.
“It then burns the leaves and eventually damage the entire crop,” said Daep.
The same happens to the vegetation in the areas where the ashes were dumped for the past days of Mayon eruption.