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Shelters Full for Volcano Evacuees

March 2, 2000

LEGAZPI, Philippines (AP) _ The school emergency shelter is so crowded at night that many evacuees from Mayon volcano sleep in outdoor walkways, sitting on the ground with their backs to a wall.

When day breaks, they gather their possessions and leave so the school can be used for classes.

``When it rains, we get wet. We just use a blanket to cover our bodies,″ said Remedios Serrano.

Serrano and her husband, Domingo, and their nine children have been staying for more than a week at the evacuation center at Gogon Elementary School _ the same place they fled to seven years ago to escape Mayon’s last eruption.

The 1993 explosion killed more than 70 people, most from the village of Bonga on the southeast slopes of Mayon where the Serranos live.

Mayon quietly discharged lava from its crater today after several days of eruptions, but scientists warned that more explosions were possible.

``This is not yet the end,″ said Ernesto Corpuz of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Pyroclastic flows _ superheated clouds of ash and gas that travel at high speeds down the mountain _ have reached nearly four miles from the crater, threatening nearby villages, officials said.

No casualties have been attributed to Mayon’s recent eruptions except for a 70-year-old woman who died of a heart attack. But health officials are worried about the spread of diseases in the cramped evacuation centers.

The number of evacuees has climbed to more than 65,000, causing extensive overcrowding, said Cedric Daep, head of the Albay provincial disaster management office.

The 48 rooms of Gogon Elementary School are filled with 3,253 people, with up to 28 families to a room _ more than double the center’s capacity, said principal Nerissa Cantuba.

The Serranos share a 23-foot-by-26-foot room with 23 other families, many of whom must sleep outside.

From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., the room is used as a classroom for third grade pupils. An hour before classes begin, all the evacuees must return the students’ desks to their proper places.

When the last student leaves in the afternoon, the evacuees quickly clear the middle of the room, converting it back to a small sleeping area where mats are laid out. Children, adults and the elderly lie side by side.

``It is hot and the mosquitoes feast on us,″ said Delia Osama, 42, who fled from the volcano with her five children. ``We have to leave at six, so we wake up at four o’clock.″

Odors of dried fish and leftover rice fried in the hallways waft through the school.

In the schoolyard, other families seek shelter under woven plastic tarps that leak when it rains.

Many evacuees, like the Serranos, return to their villages during the day to tend to their farms and bring food back to the evacuation camp.

``We are afraid of Mayon, but we have nowhere else to go,″ Remedios Serrano said. ``We want it to quiet down. Every time it erupts, we must flee here again.″

The current evacuation also was a repeat of the 1993 exodus for Brigilda Nunez, whose youngest son, Jojo, now 8, was baptized at the evacuation camp seven years ago.

``We just have to make do here,″ Mrs. Nunez said. ``Looking at the volcano, I’m afraid we’ll have to stay for three months.″

For much of last week, several of the toilets at the school were clogged and evacuees had to line up at a single faucet for drinking water. On Wednesday, hand pumps were installed at two wells dug in 1993.

Villagers elsewhere were even less fortunate.

In Ligao town, Mayor Fernando Gonzales said the heavy ash falls killed most of the fish being grown by about 50 fishpond operators. He said 70 percent to 80 percent of rice produced in the town also was destroyed. Fruit trees were extensively damaged.

Officials must figure out how to provide an income to farmers who have lost their crops, Gonzales said. ``That is the No. 1 problem now,″ he said.

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