Nearly 15,000 people have fled from villages around the Philippines’ most active volcano as lava flowed down its crater amid warnings the eruption could become explosive.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology increased the alert level for Mount Mayon to three on a scale of five, indicating an increased prospect of a hazardous eruption "within weeks or even days".
Lava flowed at least half a mile down a gully from the crater this morning and ash clouds appeared mid-slope as lava fragments rolled down, said Renato Solidum, who heads the volcano institute.
Molten rocks and lava at Mayon’s crater lit the night sky in a reddish-orange glow yesterday despite the thick cloud cover, sending thousands of residents into evacuation shelters.
Disaster response officials said more than 14,700 people have been moved from high-risk areas in three cities and four towns in an ongoing evacuation. People in the danger area have put up huge white crosses in the past in their areas, hoping to protect their lives and homes.
Cedric Daep, an Albay emergency official, said: "There are some who still resist, but if we reach alert level four, we’ll really be obligated to resort to forced evacuation." Level four signifies the volcano could erupt violently within days.
Mayon lies in the coconut-growing Albay province about 210 miles south-east of Manila.
Three steam-explosions since Saturday have spewed ash into nearby villages and may have breached solidified lava plugging the crater, causing lava to start gushing out, Mr Solidum said.
With its near-perfect cone, Mayon is popular with climbers and tourists but has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, sometimes violently.
In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers, including three Germans, who had ventured near the summit despite warnings of possible danger.
Experts fear a major eruption could trigger pyroclastic flows - superheated gas and volcanic debris racing down the slopes at high speeds, incinerating or vaporising everything in its path.
More extensive explosions of ash could drift toward nearby towns and cities, including Legazpi city, the provincial capital, about nine miles away.
Planes have been warned not to fly close to the volcano.