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US Troops Pitch Tents for Filipinos

March 6, 2000

MABINIT, Philippines (AP) _ Jenson Perez returned to his field on the slopes of Mayon volcano today for the first time since the mountain began erupting 11 days ago. Instead of ripe tomatoes and bell peppers, he found only smoldering volcanic debris.

Farms and a coconut grove were buried beneath coarse rocks and boulders, some as large as a car. Smoke, heavy with the smell of sulfur, wafted out of holes between the rocks.

``I was about to harvest my crops,″ Perez said as he surveyed the burned landscape. ``What can I do now?″

On the edges of the mound, trees were singed by the heat of the pyroclastic flow _ superheated ash, rocks and other volcanic debris that roared down the mountain during its violent eruptions on Feb. 24, the day after Perez escaped with his wife and five children.

Nearby, the remains of two cows floated in a pool of brown rain water.

The area is four miles from the volcano’s crater, well within a five-mile danger zone vulnerable to pyroclastic flows, which incinerated anything in their path as they traveled 50 mph down the slope.

``You will count 10 years before you can make use of this land again,″ Perez said. ``We will have to find another place, but we don’t have any money to start farming again.″

Perez and several other farmers who climbed the foot of Mayon today to visit their farms say they are still afraid it may erupt again after being quiet for five days. They glanced frequently at the cloud-shrouded peak of the conical mountain.

Daniel Barajas, who also lost his vegetable farm, has already made several trips back to his home, which escaped damage, to watch over his water buffalo and his 3-month-old pig. He said some traders were taking advantage of people from his village by offering to buy their livestock at cheap prices.

He refused an offer to buy his pig for $30, half of what it normally would fetch, he said.

Barajas said rice, canned sardines and noodles are provided at the evacuation camp where he and other Mabinit villagers are staying.

``But you still have to buy other food to go with rice,″ he said. ``Where will we get that?″

Cedric Daep, Albay provincial disaster management chief, said the number of evacuees surpassed 68,000 on Sunday. ``I don’t know why the number is still rising when we have no more eruptions,″ he said.

Hungry villagers may be attracted by food donations from private groups, he said.

On Sunday, 30 U.S. soldiers helped Filipino troops pitch tents to help ease crowding at the 44 evacuation centers.

The American soldiers, among more than 2,000 who joined in a month of joint military exercises that ended Friday, also brought bottled water, tarps and 20,000 gas masks funded by a $418,000 donation from the U.S. government.

Mayon began erupting on Feb. 24, belching red hot rocks and ash into the sky. Last week, a series of powerful explosions rained ash on several villages, forcing more people into crowded evacuation centers.

Mayon’s most violent eruption, on Feb. 1, 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried an entire town in volcanic mud.

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