State volcanologists raised the alert level on the 8,070-foot Mayon volcano overnight to two steps below a major eruption after ash explosions.
Dark orange lava fragments glowed in the dark as they trickled down the mountain slope overnight. Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said the activity could get worse in coming days.
“It’s already erupting,” Solidum said.
More than 20,000 people were evacuated to safety by nightfall, said Governor Joey Salceda of Albay province, where Mayon is located about 340km south-east of Manila.
The first of 20 vehicles, including army trucks, were sent to villages to take residents to schools and other temporary housing, provincial emergency management official Jukes Nunez said.
“It’s 10 days before Christmas. Most likely people will be in evacuation centres, and if Mayon’s activity won’t ease down we will not allow them to return to their homes,” Nunez said.
Residents in Albay are used to moving away from Mayon. Nearly 50,000 people live within an 8km radius around the mountain, and some villages were evacuated last month when the volcano spewed ash.
Mayon last erupted in 2006, and about 30,000 people were moved. An eruption in 1993 killed 79 people.
Salceda said yesterday that he has placed the central province under a “state of imminent disaster,” which will make it easier for him to draw and use emergency funds.