Three German tourists and their Filipino tour guide were killed yesterday when the Mayon volcano exploded into life, spewing massive boulders “as big as cars” and a giant ash cloud.
Another tourist is missing and presumed dead.
Twenty-seven people, including at least nine foreigners and their guides, had spent the night camping on the slopes of the mountain in two groups before setting out at daybreak for the crater of the volcano when the sudden explosion jolted the picturesque mountain, which is about 340 kilometres southeast of Manila, in Albay province.
Guide Kenneth Jesalva said rocks “as big as a living room” came raining down, killing and injuring members of his group, some of whom were in critical condition. Jesalva said he rushed back to the base camp at 914 metres to call for help.
Albay provincial governor Joey Salceda said everyone on the mountain had been accounted for at midday, with the exception of another foreigner.
Eight people were injured, and were winched off the mountain by helicopter. Salceda said the others were in the process of being brought down the mountain. Ash clouds have cleared over the volcano, which was quiet later in the morning.
“The injured are all foreigners … They cannot walk. If you can imagine, the boulders there are as big as cars. Some of them slid and rolled down.
“We will rappel the rescue team, and we will rappel them up again,” he said from Legazpi, the provincial capital at the foot of the mountain.
An Austrian mountaineer and two Spaniards were rescued with small bruises, he said.
Marti Calleja, another local tour operator, said his company was guiding for some of the foreigners.
“It rained like hell with stones. It was sudden and there was no warning,” Calleja said by telephone.
The group was initially trapped about half a kilometre below the crater, Calleja added.
Yesterday’s eruption was not unusual for the restive Mayon, said Renato Solidum, the head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
The 2,460-metre mountain has erupted about 40 times during the last 400 years.
In 2010, thousands of residents moved to temporary shelters when the volcano ejected ash up to eight kilometres from the crater.
Solidum said no alert was raised after the latest eruption and no evacuation was being planned.
Climbers are not allowed when an alert is up. However, Solidum said that even with no alert raised, the immediate zone around the volcano is supposed to be a no-go area because of the risk of a sudden eruption.
Despite the risks, Mayon and its near-perfect cone is a favourite spot for volcano watchers. Most enjoy the occasional nighttime spectacle of the rim lit by flowing lava .
The volcano has a trail to the crater that is walkable, though it is steep and strewn with rocks and debris from past eruptions.
Residents in towns around the volcano were surprised by the sudden activity .
“It was so sudden that many of us panicked,” said Jun Marana, a 46-year-old bus driver and father of two. “When we stepped out we saw this huge column against the blue sky.”
Marana said the ash column dispersed after about an hour, but said he was not taking his chances and was prepared to leave his home.