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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
Philippines volcano evacuation begins
Villagers leave on foot
Thousands of villagers have abandoned their homes
The Philippine authorities have begun the evacuation of more than 40,000 people from Botolan in the north of the country in case a daring attempt to drain a volcano's lake goes wrong.

The lake, in the crater of Mount Pinatubo, has filled with rainwater since it was created in an eruption 10 years ago.

Scientists fear that unless they empty it in a controlled manner, it could breach the volcano's rim and flood the surrounding area.

Click here to see drainage plan

Raymundo Punongbayan, director of the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology, said a five-metre-wide (16 feet) channel had been dug from the crater's edge.

A "plug" of earth has been left in place, ready to be dislodged when the order to drain the lake is given, expected on Thursday morning.

Mr Punongbayan said there was still a 20% chance of the operation going wrong.

In this scenario, a surge of water could collect mud and bury villages in several metres of debris.

"That's why we want people to evacuate," Mr Punongbayan said.

Geologists believe the lake that has formed in the crater could release as much as 60 million cubic metres of water (13 billion gallons).

Water-filled crater
Experts fear the crater will overflow
If the operation goes according to plan, 24 million cubic metres (five billion gallons) will be drained off in the first 24 hours.

The problem has its roots in Mount Pinatubo's 1991 eruption, when 800 people were killed.

The volcano's top was blown off during the eruption, leaving a hole covering five square km (two square miles).

Despite government warnings about the evacuation, not everyone intends to leave.

Faustino Corum, a retired government assessor, told Reuters news agency he was staying put.

"I will be able to see the waters coming even if they are still kilometres away. That will give me enough time to run," he was quoted as saying.

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The BBC's Jon McLean
reports from Manila
John Ewart, Volcano Disaster Assistant Programme
outlines the details of the project
See also:

25 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Volcano disaster warning
16 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Volcanic lake threatens disaster
31 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Early warning for volcanic mudslides
08 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Satellite snaps volcano eruption
24 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thousands flee Philippines volcano
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