08/07/2006, 00.00
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Alert level higher as Mayon volcano set to erupt

Alert is raised to second highest level. Volcano is active since July. More than 70,000 are facing evacuation.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 70,000 people might have to leave their homes because Mayon volcano, located in Albay province south-east of Manila, seemed ready to blow its top.

The volcano has experienced six explosions, according to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, which raised the alert to Level 4—Level 5 represents an ongoing eruption.

Volcanologists also said they detected 21 low-frequency volcanic earthquakes in the last 24 hours. And authorities raced to evacuate some 35,000 people.

The volcano started showing signs of activity in mid-July, spewing lava and ashes that reached some settlements.

Officials extended the danger zone to eight kilometres on the volcano's southern side, from seven kilometres earlier. The new area includes at least five neighbourhoods in Legaspi city, where classes were immediately suspended.

Defence Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr announced that 80 army trucks ferried people to 31 evacuation centres. The Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office said that at least 74,000 people from 40 villages faced evacuation.

The figure includes about 50,000 who ventured back inside the danger zone to save crops in the fertile volcanic soil,

Mayon is one of the Philippines' 22 active volcanoes. Its most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried a town in mud. A 1993 eruption killed 79 people.

The Philippines is in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where volcanic activity and earthquakes are common.

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