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Philippine president asks for 'parameters' of Mayon Volcano tours


18:50, May 07, 2013

MANILA, May 7 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has asked local executives to explain the parameters that it uses to determine how they allow tours to the Mayon Volcano.

This development followed the death of five mountaineers from Tuesday's ash explosion of one of the country's most active volcanoes.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that as far as they know a permanent six-kilometer danger zone had been established before the latest explosion. This, she said, should have been enforced by the local government to prevent anyone from being hurt or even losing life as a result of volcanic eruption.

Valte said the permanent danger zone prohibits a permanent settlement in the area but allowed certain tourist activities.

"What we understand is the local government has restricted activity and, precisely, the president wanted to know what are the parameters. Because the six-kilometer danger zone is something that is enforced by the local government," Valte said in a briefing.

The Mayon Volcano, famed for its nearly perfect cone, is one of the country's major tourist spots. Located in the province of Albay, about 500 kilometers southeast of the Philippine capital, it has attracted mountaineers from the Philippines and abroad.

In 2010, the volcano rumbled and spewed ash, displacing thousands of residents. After staying quiet for three years, Mayon started spewing ash again Tuesday, at around 8 a.m. local time, killing four German tourists and a Filipino tour guide. Seven others including a mountaineer from Australia were injured.

Government rescuers are heading to the foot of the Mayon to rescue the mountaineers and recover the bodies.

According to Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro, regional director for Bicol at the Office of Civil Defense, the foreign nationals and their guide were about a half kilometer away from the crater of the volcano when the explosion occurred.

"There was tremor and the five fell into a ravine," Alejandro said, adding that those who were injured were hit by falling rocks caused by the explosion.

There are no other effects of the eruption thus there's no need to evacuate the residents living near the volcano, he said.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology ( Phivolcs) described this as a "phreatic event" which lasted for about 73 seconds and produced gray to brown clouds that reached 500 meters above the summit and drifted west southwest.

"No volcanic earthquake was detected within the past 24-hour observation period. Seismic and gas emission parameters remain within background levels and indicate no intensification of volcanic activity," Phivolcs said.

With such observations, the state agency said that it is maintaining an Alert Level 0 status, which means that no eruption is imminent.

However, small phreatic explosions including small steam and ash ejections may occur suddenly with little or no warning, it added.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda has ordered the suspension of all activities around the restive volcano. Salceda banned mountain climbing, farming and venturing into the slopes of the volcano.

Valte likewise appealed to the public to avoid the danger zone and to cooperate with authorities. She added that the government is focusing on helping the injured mountaineers and facilitating the repatriation of the fatalities.

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