MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - The volume of lava streaming out of Mayon Volcano's summit crater has increased and more ash explosions have been recorded, indications that a hazardous eruption may happen soon, a government volcanologist said Saturday.
"Ang intensification ay isang indication na papalapit na tayo doon pero mahirap tukuyin kung kailan (The intensification [of the volcano's activity] is an indication that it is on the verge of erupting. It's just hard to predict when it will happen)," July Sabit, Phivolcs' resident volcanologist in Albay province, told radio dzMM.
Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum, meanwhile, told ANC that Mayon Volcano is "technically erupting." He said that what they are on alert for is the "hazardous phase" of the volcano's eruption.
Solidum said that based on the Phivolcs' observations for the past 3 days, it seemed the volcano is already "moving towards the hazardous phase."
Sabit said volume-wise, the lava gushing out of the volcano's mouth has increased. He said there is also an increase in the number of explosions recorded since Friday night.
He said the advancing lava flow has reached approximately 4 kilometers downslope from the summit crater.
"The Mayon Volcano's activity has increased and intensified, but we are still on Alert Level 3," Sabit said. He said the Phivolcs would immediately raise the alert level to 4, once rumbling sounds are heard from the volcano and more powerful earthquakes are recorded.
He added that another indication of Alert Level 4 is “lava fountaining,” which is visible at night.
As of 7 a.m. Saturday, Phivolcs said it has detected 197 volcanic quakes and tremors and 18 ash explosions, which produced dirty white to grayish ash columns that reached 100 meters to 2 kilometers (2,000 meters) above the crater summit, it added.
It added that harmonic tremors were continuously recorded by the seismic instruments.
Sabit said the volcano's activity started to increase on Thursday, and then further intensified on Friday morning, with 10 ash explosions and 248 volcanic earthquakes.
He said the volcano's activity lulled by Friday night, but started to intensify again early Saturday.
Albay province has been placed under a state of calamity.
The Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) of Albay has evacuated more than 8,000 families from the 6-kilomter to 8-kilometer danger zones of the picturesque, nearly perfect cone volcano.
A radio dzMM report said the provincial government has been spending P1.5 million a day since Alert Level 3 was raised on Monday night. More than a thousand families remained within the danger zones.
Eruption won’t disfigure Mayon
Solidum, meanwhile, said that the continuous flowing of lava from the summit crater is somehow patching up spots the eroded parts of the volcano due to previous eruptions.
The volcano’s most recent major eruption was in 2006. It has erupted 48 times, claiming thousands of lives. The deadliest eruption was in 1814, were more than 1,200 people were killed as lava almost buried a whole town.
Solidum said that in case a full-blown eruption happens, the volcano’s near perfect cone shape will be maintained.
“Essentially if you look at the form of the volcano, it will be maintained,” he said.
The volcano is one of the country's tourist attractions because of its near perfect cone shape.
Cedric Daep, Albay's Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, said more tourists have been trooping to the province to watch the most anticipated major eruption of the volcano.
Daep said the provincial government has designated "safe viewing areas" in Legazpi City. He said the city "is perfectly safe" from the full-blown eruption as it is 16 kilometers away from the volcano's summit crater. – Reports from Alex Calda, radio dzMM and Jose Carretero, ABS-CBN Bicol and Dominic Almelor, ABS-CBN News