Mayon Volcano, the most active volcano in the Philippines, is making its presence felt, and it looks like we will continue to see it in action in the days to come. It has caught the country by surprise with the intensity of its eruptions. As CNN reported, “increasing seismic unrest and summit explosions” have raised alert levels to four from three last week. Five is the highest, and it signals an impending hazardous eruption.
Mayon Volcano is within the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire," where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have occurred as well. Yesterday, January 23, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said the Kusatsu-Shirane volcano in Japan erupted, and earthquakes were felt in Indonesia and Alaska.
“Roughly 90 percent of all earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire, and the ring is dotted with 75 percent of all active volcanoes on Earth,” according to the National Geographic in a Interaksyon report.
According to the Philippine Star, more than 56,000 people living around Mayon Volcano have evacuated after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) warned that “a violent eruption may occur in hours or days.” Spewing red-hot lava and kilometers-high ash plumes have caused authorities to mark an eight-kilometer radius around the volcano as a danger zone.
Due to falling ash, several municipalities in Albay are in a state of “zero visibility” namely Guinobatan, Camalig, and Ligao. The daytime darkness has caused fear in residents.
“People got scared. The kids did not understand what was happening, then suddenly it got dark, and you could not see who you were with,” Danny Garcia, a spokesman for Albay province, told AFP.
The sight of a restless volcano from afar, spewing red-hot lava and sending huge columns of smoke into the sky, is a sight to marvel. But, rather than the pyroclastic flows of a volcano, people get more anxious with ash fall, according to the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN).
The ash fall from Mount Pinatubo , the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, affected several provinces in Luzon, including Metro Manila, and reached as far as some countries in Southeast Asia in 1991.
The Department of Health (DOH) and Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara have advised the people in Albay to minimize their exposure to falling volcanic ash. They've been asked to stay indoors as much as possible, wear dust masks, and wear goggles or glasses as eye protection, among others.
Just how dangerous is ash fall really? According to the DOH, ash fall can cause nose and throat irritation, coughing, eye irritation, discomfort while breathing, and minor skin problems. It is because freshly fallen ash can have “acid coatings,” which causes the lung and eye irritation, according to the IVHNN. Symptoms due to exposure are typically short-term.
Those with lung problems, such as bronchitis and emphysema, are at risk for more severe symptoms when exposed to ash fall. “Asthma sufferers, especially children who may be heavily exposed to the ash when they play, may suffer bouts of coughing, tightness of the chest and wheezing,” said IVHNN.
Parents are advised to keep children indoors as much as possible and discourage strenuous play when ash is in the air. “Exertion leads to heavier breathing, drawing small particles more deeply into the lungs,” explained IVHNN. If a child must go outside, a mask, preferably one fitted and designed for children, must be worn. If a dust mask is not readily available, one can be improvised using a dampened piece of cloth.
Overall, however, “volcanic ash causes relatively few health problems” and “evidence suggests that ingestion of small amounts of ash is not hazardous.” That said, families should still take all the necessary precautions.