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Last Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
Living in the shadow of a volcano
By Samanthi Dissanayake
BBC News

Mount Mayon
Mount Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines
Matanag is a small farming village nestling in the shadow of the most active volcano in the Philippines, Mount Mayon.

The village lies virtually deserted because its residents have been evacuated.

Over the past month, Mayon has been spewing ash and thick streams of molten lava, raising fears that a major eruption is imminent.

But Matanag's villagers told the BBC News website that some farmers chose to remain behind and many are eager to return home despite the threat posed by the volcano.

"It's been a tradition for every eruption that the men look after the houses and they only evacuate when the volcano is really dangerous," said 19-year-old Margie Aydalla, speaking from an evacuation centre in Legazpi city, the capital of Albay province.

map

"My father and the rest of the men in the family are still in the village to look after our livelihoods. There are those that own poultry and pigs, they have to be home to feed the animals.

"Many women also go back to the village to do the laundry."

Evacuation limbo

This is not a practice the city authorities wish to encourage, according to Marlene Manaya, the social welfare and development officer for Legazpi city.

"We know the villagers are really inconvenienced by this, but we have to keep them away. I can't say how long this could last for. The military is guarding the area but we know that some people are successful in sneaking back."

There are about 1,500 evacuees from Matanag at the Albay Central School evacuation centre, with about 14 families to a classroom.

Evacuation centre in Albay - 8 August 2006
Villagers have complained of overcrowding at evacuation centres

"It's crowded and noisy here, babies are crying and there is no privacy, no comfort. Sanitation and hygiene is a problem," said Margie Aydalla.

"But people from our village are very traditional. We value community spirit at these times. Here you can see people cooking food for the rest of the families in their rooms."

Most frightening

Mrs Manaya says the city authorities are working hard to expand the number of classrooms and evacuation centres to tackle the problem of overcrowding.

Matanag's village chief, Antonio Alcera, is grateful for the shelter.

"We have been given the best accommodation here. Safety and security are being enforced and we can use a curfew to prevent evacuees from leaving the centre," he said.

I saw with my own eyes the bodies of my villagers at the foot of Mount Mayon
Mary Cris
"Yes, people are very worried about their homes and their livelihoods, but we have in the past experienced the punishment of the volcano's explosion."

In 1993 Mayon erupted unexpectedly, killing 75 people.

"Farmers from our village died because of that eruption," said Mr Alcera.

Mary Cris has experienced four major eruptions while living in Matanag but, she says, 1993 was the most frightening occasion.

"We were caught unprepared. We were taking exams when suddenly we heard a very loud explosion. The next thing, we were running as fast as we could.

"We lost our slippers and got scars and wounds on our feet. I saw with my own eyes the bodies of my villagers. Their families could barely recognise them."

Fears for livelihoods

Pyroclastic flow at base of Mount Mayon - sent in by news website reader
Pyroclastic flows have come closer to villages
Those villagers "sneaking back" to Matanag are fully aware of the dangers.

Molten lava has already devastated large stretches of land at the foot of the mountain outside Matanag.

But people are desperately concerned about their livelihoods, and say they cannot afford to leave their land unattended.

"Just like my family, which has a coconut and vegetable plantation, the biggest fears in the village is losing our livelihoods," said Margie Aydalla.

Village chief Mr Alcera says people depend on farming. "They go back because this is the only source of the family income. They feel they have no choice," he says.

Despite the perils of living in such close proximity to the mountain, the people who live at its base still hold it close to their heart.

"I dearly love Mount Mayon," said Mary Cris. "I never felt sorry of living near its foot despite the danger she brought to our lives. She has given us so much for our living, rich land and water for farming."

Mr Alcera says he speaks for the village when he speaks of the mountain.

"The volcano is a natural beauty made by our creator. It is deeply connected to us and we will continue to live there."


SEE ALSO
Fresh activity on Mayon volcano
08 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippine volcano 'set to erupt'
07 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Philippines volcano
20 Jul 06 |  In Pictures
Animated guide: Volcanoes
04 May 06 |  Science/Nature
Timeline: The Philippines
24 Jun 06 |  Country profiles

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