Mayon Erupts; 5 die

No cause for alarm - Phivolcs

Manila, Philippines --- At least five people, including three Germans, died while eight other foreign tourists and locals were injured after the famous Mayon Volcano in Albay spewed ash column as high as 500 meters yesterday morning.

But the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said there was no cause for alarm as it was just a normal "phreatic" eruption.

Despite of the incident, Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum said there is no need so far to raise Mayon's alert level.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said the casualties were among a large group of local and foreign tourists who left into a Mayon hiking expedition on Monday in two groups using two different routes.

"Rescue teams were immediately sent to account for both the reported fatalities and the injured victims in the area. As of latest report, there are five dead," said Salceda.

As of yesterday afternoon, four of the fatalities have already been retrieved and were immediately taken to the nearby funeral parlors, said Supt. Renato Bataller, spokesman of the Bicol police.

He said three of the fatalities were confirmed to be Germans, their identities have yet to be established.

The other fatality was identified as Jerome Berin, a tour guide from Malilipot town.

He said five other foreigners were injured. They were identified as Thais Udome Kiat, Utan Ruchi, a certain Boonchi, a certain Benjama, and Australian Straw Vega.

Bataller said the information they received was that all the casualties were hit with rocks and boulders which cascaded down the slope of the volcano following what volcano experts described as phreatic explosion wherein steam and ashes were ejected out of the Mayon crater at around 8 a.m. yesterday.

Quoting field reports, Salceda said two groups of climbers suffered the casualties - the small group that went up through the Sto. Domingo town and the other from Malilipot town.
Salceda said it was the Malilipot Group, which have 10 foreigners, that suffered the most, with five dead, including the Germans.

He added that at least three teams were sent to the affected areas to account for both the fatalities and the missing persons.

"The rescue operation is ongoing, we have already deployed several teams who have been trained to give basic life support," said Salceda.

Jukes Nuñez, of the Albay Public Safety and Management Office (APSEMO), said there was an initial order to the rescue teams to prioritize the injured victims.

"They (injured victims) are the priority, it was also discussed that helicopters would be sent to the area to assist in the rescue operations," said Nunez.

He said additional rescue teams were also sent to the three entry/exit points toward Camp 2 of the Mayon Volcano - located in Sto. Domingo, Bacacay and Malilipot towns.

"They were advised to stay there along with medical teams to attend to any victims who may pass by the area," said Nuñez.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, a total of six injured persons were already accounted and immediately taken to the nearby hospital, according to Nunez.

A total of 27 people were initially monitored to have gone into hiking on Monday. And Nuñez said that since the incident happened at 8 a.m., they all expect them to be at Camp 2.

Camp 2 is fronting the second district of Albay in the eastern part ofMayon Volcano where hikers usually take a rest before the climbing proper towards the crater.

The spewing of ash and steam caught both local authorities and the hikers by surprise, noting that it was an unusual activity of the Mayon Volcano.

The incident happened at around 8 a.m. and lasted for 73 seconds, according to Ramil Vaquilar, Phivolcs science research analyst.

Money-Making Activity

The reported casualty during yesterday's Mayon activity brought to question why local and foreign tourists were allowed to go near the volcano, considering that there is already a six-kilometer permanent danger zone.

Nuñez said that Mayon hiking activity is normal during summer days, with some travel agencies even promoting it as part of the local tourism drive.

While travel agencies are allowed to do a Mayon adventure, there are also local residents who earn a living by serving as tourist guides for both local and foreign tourists.
Probe Ordered

President Benigno S. Aquino III immediately ordered an inquiry into why tourists were allowed to enter the six-kilometer permanent danger zone around the restive volcano.

Concerned about the safety of the people, the President asked Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. to find out from concerned authorities about the "parameters" of the volcano's restricted area, according to his Deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)