Villagers flee near central Philippines volcano

MANILA - About 40 families living on the slopes of an active volcano in the central Philippines will begin evacuation to safer areas this week, local government officials said today.

Casiguran town Mayor Edwin Hamor told reporters he had ordered local police units to start the evacuation of residents from Imlagadian village, which is inside a 4-km danger zone, as Mount Bulusan was showing increased activity.

"The residents there refused to leave their homes," Hamor said. "We were just obeying the orders of the president to move people on the volcano slopes to much safer areas. We don't want to sacrifice lives in case of a major eruption."

An estimated 50,000 people in six towns of Sorogon province would be evacuated in the event of a big eruption, Arnel Capili of the Office of Civil Defence said.

Yesterday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo toured three towns in the Bicol region, where falling volcanic ashes have damaged homes and crops. A river system in Irosin town has been contaminated by ashes and high levels of sulphuric acid.

Civil defence officials have held evacuation drills in three towns to test preparations for a major eruption.

The 1,559-metre volcano has erupted 15 times, most recently in November 1994, though seven minor eruptions have been recorded since March.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised its alert level on Bulusan to a precautionary 2 earlier this month and reminded residents on Thursday to stay away from the mountain after its crater belched clouds of ash.

At level 3 an explosion is considered possible, at level 4 it is seen as likely and at level 5, the highest alert, an eruption has occurred, with lava flows or ash columns reaching 6 km.

Mount Pinatubo, on Luzon island in the northern Philippines, erupted in 1991 after lying dormant for 600 years. That eruption buried dozens of villages under tonnes of mud and more than 800 people died, mostly from diseases in crowded evacuation camps.

- REUTERS

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