Philippine Volcano Kills Five Hikers In Eruption

A Philippine volcano killed at least five climbers and injured more than a dozen others after it spewed huge rocks and ash just after daybreak on Tuesday.

Officials announced the deaths as rescue teams and helicopters rushed to Mayon volcano to bring out the dead and rescue the remaining hikers.

At least seven more hikers were injured from a group of 20 mountaineers surprised by the sudden eruption of one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes. Despite its frequent eruption history, officials were surprised by the small eruption, which was the volcano’s first in three years.

Guide Kenneth Jesalva reported from a camp near the crater that the climbers killed in the eruption were struck by huge rocks. Some of the boulders were the size of living rooms. He added that he was in the group that spent the night on the mountain, known for its almost-perfect cone.

But the volcano sprang to life early in the morning, sending rocks “as big as a living room” raining down on the mountaineers. Jesalva reported rushing back to the closest base camp to call for help.

Those killed included a German, and Austrian, and a Filipino. Eduardo del Rosario, chief of the national disaster agency, added that the injured included foreigners and Filipino guides, some of whom were in critical condition.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology issued an advisory calling the volcano as “small phreatic event,” which lasted about 73 seconds. In that time, it sent ash 500 meters into the air. No intensification of activity was noted, so the alert level was not raised.

The Institute cautioned, however, that small steam and ash ejections may happen with little or no warning. It advised against entering the four-mile Permanent Danger Zone around Mayon. The mountain has erupted at least 48 times since records started. The most recent eruption occurred in 2009, forcing tens of thousands of local residents to flee their homes.

Despite the number affected, the 2009 eruption paled in comparison to Mayon’s eruption in 1814. The disaster killed more than 1,200 people and decimated several towns.

There is no word on when the identities of the five hikers killed by the Philippine volcano will be released.

[Image via Merrijill A. Medenilla]