12/23/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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About 47,000 people from near Mayon Volcano to spend Christmas in evacuation centres

by Santosh Digal
Catholic associations and government agencies take emergency steps to help refugees. Priests celebrate daily Masses. Legazpi bishop visits the area to see things first hand. Alarm is sounded over possible epidemic outbreaks in evacuation centres.
Manila (AsiaNews) – More than 47,000 people who fled their villages following reports that the Mayon Volcano might erupt will spend Christmas in evacuation centres. Government and Catholic volunteer organisations are taking steps to boost the refugees’ morale and help them celebrate the holiday.

Diocesan Chancellor Fr Rex Arjona said that the Church is “doing its best” to provide relief to people, but does not have enough for everyone now staying in centres. Priests are conducting daily masses to ease anxiety and increase comfort level.

Mgr Joel Baylon, bishop of Legazpi, visited some of the camps yesterday to get an overall picture of the situation and personally console some of the displaced people.

“As you can see, people are in need of sleeping mats, blankets and food,” the prelate said. Like the authorities, Mgr Baylon is concerned by the worsening health and sanitary conditions in evacuation centres.

Running water at such sites could create pools of stagnant water, which are potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“I hope the Department of Health can help and keep the facilities clean,” the bishop said.

In the meantime, Mayon's volcanic activity, such as rumblings, quakes and emissions of sulphur dioxide are increasing. This is a sign that “a hazardous eruption could happen any time,” volcanologist Alex Baloloy said.

The 2,460-metre (8,070-foot) volcano is located some 360 kilometres (225 miles) southeast of Manila.

Ash ejections have been observed in recent days, and some nearby villages have been covered in fine ash particles.

So far, the authorities have evacuated 9,200 families for a total of 47,000 people from the high-risk areas.

Health officials have warned that the ash could cause serious damage to lungs and skin.

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