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Report on Mayon (Philippines) — April 2013


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 38, no. 4 (April 2013)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Mayon (Philippines) Mainly calm during 2009-2013; 7 May 2013 explosion kills five climbers

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2013. Report on Mayon (Philippines) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 38:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201304-273030



13.257°N, 123.685°E; summit elev. 2462 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Mayon's emissions, often small, gas-driven, ash-bearing, and without visible magmatic components, were generally minor during 2009 through early June 2013. After erupting in late 2009, Mayon seismicity generally declined to baseline levels through 23 September 2011 (BGVN 36:09). This report summarizes seismic activity from the end of the last report into early June 2013. The summit crater released a sudden minor phreatic eruption on 7 May 2013 that would have been harmless except for the ejection of some large blocks and the presence of dozens of climbers on the nearby upper slopes; five died.

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), small ground and tilt deformations observed since 2 March 2010 were probably due to regional faulting and not magmatic intrusion. A report published by PHIVOLCS on 27 November 2012 noted that precise leveling surveys found slight inflation of the lower N and E slopes; ground tilt changes were not fully consistent with volcanic ground deformation, but rather with incremental motion along a nearby segment of the Philippine fault zone.

That November 2013 report also noted that steaming had waned significantly by 27 November 2012. Steaming from the crater varied, but was, by November 2012, weak and occasionally wispy. The report indicated that crater incandescence had ceased since March 2012. Sulfur dioxide emissions had decreased to below baseline levels of 500 metric tons/day. As a result of diminished activity, PHIVOLCS decreased the Alert Level to 0 on 27 November 2012; however, the public was reminded not to enter the 6-km-radius Permanent Danger Zone.

The next available report on Mayon indicated that a small phreatic eruption occurred on 7 May 2013 lasting in the range of 73-146 seconds. PHIVOLCS observed that a gray-to-brown ash cloud rose 500 m above the crater and drifted WSW. Traces of ash fell in areas WNW, affecting communities up to 19 km away. The seismic network detected a single associated rockfall event. Seismicity and gas emissions remained within background levels and indicated no increase in activity. The Alert Level remained at 0.

Gas-driven explosion and fatalities on 7 May. PHIVOLCS posted a photo of the eruption taken at distance (figure 21). According to news reports, that 7 May event was fatal to climbers who had ventured to [500 m] of the summit, a point well within the 6-km-radius Permanent Danger Zone. Multiple news articles (including those in Interaksyon, The Philippine Star, Associated Press, Sunstar, and GMA Network) noted that the 7 May 2013 phreatic eruption at 0800 ejected large rocks towards climbers, killing five and injuring at least seven. A climber was quoted as saying that their team was resting when they heard a loud rumbling and then saw falling rocks "as big as a living room." A local tour operator said "It rained like hell with stones. It was sudden and there was no warning."

Figure (see Caption) Figure 21. Photo taken at 0800 on 7 May 2013 of a phreatic eruption at Mayon. Dense billowy plume is largely white with areas of brown to gray. News reports said eruptions like this were, according to PHIVOLCS, a regular occurrence. PHIVOLCS reported this plume as 500 m tall. According to news reports, rocks discharged by this eruption at 0800 killed five climbers and injured at least seven others in a region close to the summit and well within an exclusionary zone. Courtesy of PHIVOLCS.

One of the more detailed news reports, a 7 May article by Andrei Medina and Amanda Fernandez in GMA News, said that at least two groups of climbers were on the volcano at the time of the explosion. One of those groups, 20 climbers, incurred all five fatalities. Those fatalities included 4 foreigners [Europeans] and one Filipino tour guide. The article said that (according to Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro, head of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol) the foreign nationals and their guide were about half a kilometer from the crater when the 0800 explosion occurred. Another group, consisting of about seven climbers on another trail suffered three injuries (all Indonesians). Other articles raised sometimes inconsistent details about the number, composure, and locations of the various groups on the volcano.

Although authorities had set the Alert Level at the lowest risk (0, at a scale reaching up to 6) at the time of the eruption, and it remained so immediately thereafter, they had previously established the Permanent Danger Zone. In accord with this information, the article said that Albay Governor Joey Salceda said that the mountain climbing activities of the two groups affected were unauthorized. He added the tourist guides also failed to secure a permit from the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) and the Department of Tourism." The article went further to say that Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro, head of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol, said there was no need to evacuate the residents near the volcano, adding such eruptions are expected from an active volcano, and evacuation only occurs during an Alert Level 3.

An 11 May article by Cet Dematera and Celso Amo in The Philippine Star noted that the bodies of the four foreign nationals had been retrieved from Mayon's slopes. Another climber on Mayon during the 7 May eruption, Boonchai Jattupornpong, had lost contact with fellow Thai climbers, but had survived for 4 days by gathering rainwater. He was found, carried out, and brought to a hospital suffering burns, cuts, and a fractured arm. The composite disaster team involved in the search, rescue, and retrieval operations after the 7 May disaster was recommended for awards and commendation, including a possible Bronze Cross medal award or equivalent, for bravery and heroism by the Albay Provincial Governments.

Rockfalls, degassing, and incandescence. On 8 May 2013, PHIVOLCS reported that two rockfalls at Mayon had been detected within the previous 24 hours. Seismicity remained within background levels and indicated no increase in overall volcanic activity.

On 31 May 2013, PHIVOLCS raised the Alert Level to 1 as a precaution because, during the previous 36-hours, a visible but weak and short-lived hydrogen sulfide (H2S) emission was observed, along with a persistent incandescence. PHIVOLCS was concerned that the incandescence might reflect a steady emission of magmatic gas. However, PHIVOLCS also noted that seismicity remained markedly low and sulfur dioxide (SO2) measurements remained below the normal level. A ground deformation survey indicated slight edifice inflation compared to a 13 February 2013 survey.

According to PHIVOLCS, white to off-white steam plumes drifted in various directions during 5-10 June. Occasionally, bluish fumes were noted. During most evenings during this period, PHIVOLCS observed incandescence from the crater, although cloud cover sometimes obscured the volcano. The seismic network recorded one volcanic earthquake during 5-6 June and another one during 9-10 June. During 6-7 June, a single rockfall signal was detected.

Geological Summary. Symmetrical Mayon, which rises above the Albay Gulf NW of Legazpi City, is the most active volcano of the Philippines. The steep upper slopes are capped by a small summit crater. Recorded eruptions since 1616 CE range from Strombolian to basaltic Plinian, with cyclical activity beginning with basaltic eruptions, followed by longer term andesitic lava flows. Eruptions occur predominately from the central conduit and have also produced lava flows that travel far down the flanks. Pyroclastic flows and mudflows have commonly swept down many of the approximately 40 ravines that radiate from the summit and have often damaged populated lowland areas. A violent eruption in 1814 killed more than 1,200 people and devastated several towns.

Information Contacts: Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) (URL: http://www.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph); InterAksyon (URL: http://www.interaksyon.com); The Philippine Star (URL: http://www.philstar.com/); Sunstar (URL: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/).