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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 21:25 GMT 22:25 UK
Filipinos return as volcano lake drains
Lake Pinatubo
The massive lake was filled by heavy rainfall
Thousands of people in the Philippines are starting to return to their homes after officials confirmed the successful draining of a swollen volcanic lake on Mount Pinatubo.

Workers had dug a channel in the side of the volcano to spill off about a quarter of the lake, formed since an eruption 10 years ago.

It's a good success story - something we can be proud of

Raymundo Punongbayan, vulcanologist
But BBC correspondent Clare Arthurs, who visited an evacuee camp in Botolan, says several thousand who live in areas at high risk of flash flooding are still waiting to return.

They remain scared that the next heavy rainfall could again again raise the lake's water level or cause a mudslide.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has flown over the area, about 90km (55 miles) north of the capital Manila, to inspect the engineering feat.

Experts had feared the weight of the water could have breached the crater walls and flooded the homes of up to 40,000 people in and around the small coastal town of Botolan.

Greeted with relief

But on Friday officials announced the danger was over.

"We have ordered everybody to go home," said provincial Governor Vicente Magsaysay.

Click here to see drainage plan

He said the government had provided buses to take back the 9,000 people who had heeded the official evacuation warnings. Some villagers had been allowed to go home on Thursday.

Residents greeted the news with relief.

"We no longer have food," said one man, Luis Benito. "Food distributed in the evacuation centre was not enough."

Huge task

It took workers several weeks digging with picks and shovels to complete the five-metre-deep drainage channel leading into the River Bucao.

It is believed this is the first time such an operation has been carried out anywhere in the world.

"It's a good success story... it's something we can be proud of," vulcanology institute chief Raymundo Punongbayan told local television. "There was zero damage to people or property."

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 kilometres (two square miles).

Over years the crater filled with rainwater and scientists decided to drain it after the waters rose to critical levels following weeks of monsoon rains.

Click here to return

The BBC's Adam Brookes reports
"The real test is when it next rains"
See also:

07 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Filipino volcano fears remain
06 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines volcano lake empties
06 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines volcano draining begins
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
07 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Philippine crater lake
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