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Mayon still swelling with magma below

By AP and Aaron Recuenco

LEGAZPI CITY – Mayon Volcano 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 said yesterday.

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

Phivolcs said tremors, pyroclastic flows, and emissions of sulfur dioxide were detected Wednesday and early yesterday.

Lava erupting up to 500-meters high was spilling down the slope, with one lava flow extending three kilometers from the crater. Ash plumes still rising up to five-kilometers high have spread ash onto farms and towns nearby, darkening the skies and forcing residents to wear masks.

Phivolcs said Global Positioning System and other measurements indicated a sustained swelling or inflation of the mountain surface, which was consistent with magma rising and creating pressure.

The alert level for Mayon remains four on a scale of five, indicating a violent eruption may be imminent.

There have been no reports of injuries, but law enforcers have struggled to keep residents and tourists from sneaking into the danger zone, which extends eight kilometers from the crater.

Although Mayon has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, it has remained popular among climbers and tourists.

In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers who had ventured near the summit despite warnings.

The Philippines has about 22 active volcanoes. The explosion of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds.

Meanwhile, Albay is headed towards economic disaster after ash fall due to Mayon covered thousands of hectares of agricultural land.

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

“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.

“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.