Thousands more flee erupting Philippine volcano

LEGAZPI, Philippines: Tens of thousands more people have fled an erupting volcano in the Philippines, relief workers said Wednesday, as foreign tourists arrived to watch the flaming lava and giant clouds spurting from its crater.

More than 70,000 residents are now crammed in schools and other buildings, a figure that has nearly doubled over the past three days, officials said, two weeks after Mayon volcano began showing signs of activity.

Volcanologists on Monday warned of a hazardous eruption within days and a no-go zone was extended from six kilometers (3.7 miles) of the crater to nine kilometers, forcing even those beyond it to flee homes being pounded by a rain of ash.

At some shelters, evacuees are sleeping on the floor, with as many as 50 people sharing a toilet. Other shelters have no toilets at all, relief officials said.

Rose Rivero, the local Red Cross administrator, said the evacuees, mostly farmers and their families, are surviving on food handouts from the government and charities, with her aid group pitching in with drinking water, counseling, and hygiene items.

Drone footage aired by the network showed Guinobatan, a farming town of 65,000 people below Mayon´s western slope carpeted in ash that from the air resembled dirty snow with just the green of rice paddies breaking the pattern.

The state volcanology office said there was little chance of that happening soon.

It reported five episodes of “intense but sporadic lava fountaining from the summit crater” overnight Tuesday, along with ash plumes five kilometers high.

Lava and incandescent rocks also rolled down the volcano´s flanks, it said in a Wednesday bulletin.

The eruption is drawing curious American, European and South Korean tourists, local hoteliers said.

Guests rush out of their 5,600-peso ($110) per day rooms to watch Mayon´s periodic outbursts in safety from the hotel´s terrace restaurant along with local diners, she added.

With 51 eruptions in the past four centuries, Mayon, a near-perfect cone located about 330 kilometers southeast of Manila, is considered the most volatile of the Philippines´ 22 active volcanoes.

Authorities have closed airports in the region, while periodic ash showers have made driving on some roads nearly impossible. Local governments have advised residents to wear facial masks and goggles.

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