Imagine living under the threat of a living volcano. The constant threat that at any time the volcano would erupt, the ash, the debris. Volcano island. Think of Pompei when an eruption wiped out the whole city and buried it under tonnes of hot ash along with its civilisation. In a blink of an eye, the civiliSation was wiped out.
For most of us this would be horrifying. However, for the people of Legazpi City, in Luzon island's Albay province, the Philippines, living around the volcano is normal and has not affected their way of life. There have been evacuation orders over the years when Mayon volcano was threatening to erupt. However, this was quickly disregarded as the volcano went back to its normal activity.
Although the ominous smoke still comes from the crate of Mount Mayon, the residents there take it one day at a time, oblivious to the looming threat, and doing their day-to-day activity, living their lives happily amidst the constant evacuation alerts by the authorities.
"Of course it is dangerous living around the volcano, but where can we go. This is the only place I've ever known, this is the only place my parents and grand parents have lived. We just take it one day at a time, and although our belongings might be destroyed if the volcano decides to put its full wrath upon us, at the very least we might still have our lives," said one of the residents.
"If it blows, it blows. We'll be evacuated and if things are destroyed we'll start anew and rebuild. We've done it before and we'll do it again," said a non- condescending resident, who seems at ease with the threat of the volcano to spew ash.
Mount Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines. Since 1616, there were 47 eruptions. From 1616 until 2002, at least 1,300 people died and thousands were made homeless as a result of all the eruptions. The most recent eruptions were in 1947, 1984 and 1993.
In 1818 enormous, flows of lava engulfed the village of Cagsawa. The whole village disappeared under the layers of 'lava' and 'pyroclastic flows'. Only the belfry of the church reminds of the period that once there was a village here.
No casualties were recorded from the 1984 eruption after more than 73,000 people were evacuated from the danger zones as recommended by Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs) scientists. But in 1993, pyroclastic flows killed 77 people, mainly farmers, during the eruption.
Mount Mayon has been described as the volcano with the perfect cone, and is the most active volcano in the Philippines, having erupted over 48 times in the past 400 years. Its 48th eruption was a quiet effusion of lava on July 14, 2006. The small activities from 2003 and 2004 were considered precursors to the 2006 eruption. The small summit explosion occurred on Aug 10, 2008.
On December 20, 2009, Philvocs raised Mayon's status level to alert level 4 because of an increasing lava flow in the southern portion of the volcano and an increase in sulfur dioxide emission to 750 tonnes per day. As well, almost 460 earthquakes in the volcano were monitored everyday.
On the border of danger zone, rumbling sounds like thunder were also heard. Over 9,000 families (44,394 people) were evacuated by the Philippine government from the base of the volcano. No civilian was permitted within the eight-kilometre danger zone, which had been cordoned off by the Philippine military, who were actively patrolling within the danger zone to enforce the "no-go" rule and to ensure no damage or loss of property for those evacuated.
Alert level 4 was maintained, as the volcano remained restive through the month of December, prompting affected residents to spend Christmas and the New Year in evacuation centres. On December 25, sulfur dioxide emissions peaked at 8,993 tonnes per day.
A resident described the scene as chaotic, where volcanic ash covered everything. This "dust" (volcanic ash) constantly fell from the sky, as the ground rumbled, and the earth, too, sometimes.
"Dust is a part of life here. You can't escape it. Sometimes it falls stronger than other times, but it is constantly there. It gets in the eyes, your hair, your pores, and your clothes. It even feels like it comes through the walls. The dust is fine and gets everywhere. Literally, everywhere. You breathe it. You taste it. Dust is constant. You can't escape. Standing outside for even a few minutes means getting completely covered," said the resident.
Legazpi city has not much to offer in terms of tourist attractions. However, under the surface, at the Daraga area is an old church, located on top of a hill, built in the 17th Century and offers a panoramic view of Mayon volcano. There is also the ruins of Cagsawa, a sunken church caused by the eruption of Mayon in the 1814, the Hayop-hayupan cave, the hot springs of Tiwi, and of course the ever imposing Mayon volcano. The crystal blue sea is also very appealing, especially the undisturbed natural reefs and coral. In fact, there are more and more tourists who visit Legazspi city because of its wondrous dive sites, and for the more adventurous, a hike to Mount Mayon.
Starting in January 2011, the volcano is weakly erupting and may be building up to a larger hazardous eruption. Residents and authorities are well aware of the ominous nature of the volcano and are taking steps to prevent the loss of life and property.
Though the residents of the city of Legaspi view the evacuations and constant dust as routine and part of everyday life, they are very well aware of the looming threat of the volcano when one day, it will blow its top into a fiery inferno.--Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin