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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Volcanic lake threatens disaster
Volcano mission
Tribesmen set off to dig a ditch through the crater wall
By John McLean in Manila

A party of tribesmen is heading for the summit of the Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines in an attempt to prevent an impending catastrophe.

The tribesmen's task is to partly drain a lake in the crater, which is in danger of overflowing and deluging surrounding areas.

The level of the lake has been rising steadily since the volcano last erupted 10 years ago.

Pig sacrifice
A pig is taken to sacrifice
Mount Pinatubo has been quiet since the huge eruption - the biggest of the 20th Century that killed hundreds of people.

But it is still dangerous.

Dozens have been killed by cascades of volcanic debris washed off the slopes of Pinatubo by the annual rains.

Now the danger is that the lake that has formed in the crater of the volcano will overflow, rupturing the crater wall and sending millions of tons of water and mud crashing down on to the communities below.

To reduce the threat, a handful of Negrito tribesmen, who live by hunting on the slopes of the mountain, have set off on a mission to excavate a ditch through the crater wall.

Volcano trek
The safety of thousands of people depends on the tribesmen's success
The tribesmen took with them picks and shovels to dig with, and a live pig to be sacrificed to appease the spirits of the mountain.

Scientists hope that the ditch will gently drain off the excess water in the lake, thus preventing a catastrophic collapse of the crater wall.

The work is expected to take more than two weeks.

It is a perilous mission; nothing quite like this has ever been tried before.

The safety of tens of thousands of people living in the shadow of the volcano depends on the success of the tribesmen.

See also:

26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine volcano erupts again
27 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines volcano 'could erupt again'
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