Philippine troops rushing to move last remaining residents from volcano’s danger zone

By Bullit Marquez, AP
Thursday, December 24, 2009

Filipino troops rush to move holdouts from volcano

LEGAZPI, Philippines — Philippine troops went house to house Thursday threatening to use force to move hundreds of residents from the steaming slopes of a lava-spilling volcano. Some farmers begged to stay to guard their livestock while their families spent Christmas Eve in a shelter.

Volunteers distributed games and ice cream to children in some 45 evacuation centers and were preparing meals to try to restore some holiday cheer.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered officials to search for all those still refusing to leave their farms within a 5-mile (8-kilometer) danger zone around Mayon volcano in the central Philippines.

Security forces were under orders to use force if necessary to ensure no one is hurt by flowing lava or red-hot rocks, said Jukes Nunez, a provincial disaster management official.

Volcanologists warned the weeklong moderate eruption of the 8,070-foot (2,460-meter) Mayon could escalate within days as the volcano belched out 20 gray ash columns Thursday, some of them a mile (1.5 kilometers) high.

In Mabinit, a village within Mayon’s danger zone, some of the farmers pleaded with soldiers accompanied by human rights workers to allow one man in each household to guard belongings while their families are in evacuation shelters farther away.

“We can’t just leave our livestock and belongings because they may be stolen, so we asked the military to allow the men to stay behind,” said Nelson Esquivel, 53. “I will just run down when the volcano erupts.”

Military spokesman Capt. Razaleigh Bansawan said the men were given time to tend to their farms and gather belongings, but all of them were later moved out and Mabinit was sealed off.

He said the evacuation of about 1,000 people in seven other villages within the zone was ongoing. People were complying, he added.

Government workers have fanned out across some 45 schools and gymnasiums with games, movies and music concerts, hoping to keep 47,000 evacuees entertained over Christmas holidays, a time when many in this majority Roman Catholic country are missing traditional family gatherings in their homes.

Children in one evacuation center gleefully lined up for ice cream Thursday, and other activities were taking place to keep them busy.

Dinner packs of noodles, apples, oranges and corned beef will be distributed at the shelters later Thursday for Christmas Eve dinner, said Nunez.

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