Residents near an exploding Philippine volcano, the Mayon, continued to flee the area by tens of thousands on Wednesday, civil security officials said, but foreign tourists arrived to see the lava and giant clouds come out of the area. crater.

More than 70,000 people in the region, a figure that has nearly doubled in the past three days, are now crowded into schools or other public buildings, according to local authorities.

The Mayon volcano has been in operation for two weeks and the Philippine vulcanological agency warned Monday of a “dangerous eruption imminent”.

The evacuation zone has since been progressively enlarged and is now nine kilometers around the crater.

But even beyond this area, people have left their homes submerged by rains of ashes.

“They were not in the danger zone, but they are frightened,” said AFP Cedric Daep, head of civil security in the province of Albay where the volcano is located.

According to him, some 360,000 people, one-third of the province’s one million inhabitants, have breathed volcanic ash.

In some shelters, the evacuees sleep on the floor and have to share the toilets for a toilet for fifty. Other shelters are even without toilets, according to the rescuers.

“We were told that the local government would provide us (mobile toilets), but so far there is none,” says Maria Evelyn Grollo, who runs a school that has been transformed into a shelter for more than 4,000 people in the country. around the city of Legazpi.

According to Rose Rivero, regional administrator of the Red Cross, the evacuees, mostly peasant families, survive through government food distributions and charities. Its own organization provides drinking water as well as hygiene products and advice.

“We did not want to leave because we knew that life was hard in the evacuation centers,” GMA TV Susan Nolaso, who had just arrived in a shelter, told AFP. “But yesterday, the ash falls were really too strong.”

Rice fields under the ashes 

Drone footage broadcast by the TV channel showed Guinobatan, a farming town of 65,000 on the western slope of the Mayon, lined with ash that looked like snow from the sky, where only the green rice paddies .

“If we look at the history of the Mayon eruptions, it will take three or four months before they can go home,” says Rivero.

According to the national vulcanological agency, the chances are indeed slim for this to happen anytime soon.

The agency reported on Wednesday five episodes of “intense, but sporadic lava fountains from the summit crater” during the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, with also ash clouds up to five kilometers in height.

Lava as well as incandescent rocks also swept down the flanks of the volcano, according to the agency.

The eruption excites the curiosity of American, European or South Korean tourists, according to hoteliers in the area.

“They are attracted by Mayon activity. They want to see this more closely, “told AFP Nics Ortonio, receptionist at the Oriental Hotel in Legazpi, a four-star hotel that is full.

Customers leave their rooms at $ 110 per night to watch Mayon’s periodic explosions, safely from the hotel’s restaurant terrace, alongside local diners, she adds.

“It’s good for business, but as an inhabitant I’m also affected,” says the 22-year-old, explaining that she stays at home with her parents for the time being.

The Philippines is located on the Pacific “fire belt”, an area where tectonic plates meet, resulting in frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Famous in the Philippines for the near perfection of its cone, the Mayon volcano, located some 330 km southeast of Manila, rises to 2,460 meters. It is considered the most unstable of the 22 active Filipino volcanoes.

There have been 51 eruptions in the past 400 years, the last of which occurred in 2014. In 1814, more than 1,200 people were killed by lava flows that had razed the city of Cagsawa, with the exception of the belfry. a church that has become a major tourist attraction.

Airports in the area have been closed and some roads are impassable due to ash. Wearing masks and goggles is recommended for residents.