Philippine volcano filling with water, raising
fears of catastrophic floods
U.S. Water News Online
MANILA, Philippines -- Ten years after Mount Pinatubo
rained fire and ash in a huge, deadly eruption, the northern
Philippine volcano threatens to unleash mass floods as its crater
fills with rain that has been accumulating ever since, scientists
Philippine volcano experts say they are studying the danger to
more than 40,000 farmers and villagers living beneath Pinatubo, but
the British-based aid agency Oxfam says the government may be
underestimating the risks and urged immediate measures to prevent
``It's very clear that the people should be alerted to the danger
-- and immediately,'' said Lan Mercado, Oxfam's representative in the
At the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology,
director Raymundo Punongbayan called major flooding a ``worst-case
scenario'' and said it would take time to assess how much of a threat
Pinatubo actually poses to the fertile area of rice farming that also
is frequently struck by typhoons.
More than 7 trillion cubic feet of rain filled the volcano since
it blew off its top in 1991, leaving a hole of 2.08 square miles in
The water, rising rapidly in the newly started rainy season, has
climbed to within 18 feet of the summit and could crack crater walls,
endangering farms and villages in the area, according to the volcano
``There seems to be the risk of catastrophic breaching,''
Punongbayan said. ``That's the worst-case scenario. Or it could have
a slow leak. We're studying the risks but we have not done a campaign
of telling people because we do not yet see a clear trend.''
The severity of any flooding would depend on the location of any
break in the crater's walls. The lower the breach, the greater the
amount of water that would come gushing out.
Punongbayan said the water could combine with volcanic ash and mud
on the volcano's slopes to increase in volume.
Punongbayan said his institute will complete a study in coming
months on the risk of flash floods and then decide whether to put
certain areas on alert.
Despite the danger, farmers and villagers in the possible path of
destruction have not changed their daily routines -- most could not
afford to even if they wanted to.
``It's scary because the water is indeed rising fast,'' said
Ronnie Tiotuico, a tour guide who regularly takes visitors on a
three-hour, $10 trek to the summit lake. ``But I think people trust
that the government will do something if it is really dangerous.''
Tiotuico said his tours will continue, but he plans to avoid
weaker areas of the crater that could crack.
Many area residents have been aware of the risk of mudslides from
the volcano's slopes since the 1991 eruption and emergency evacuation
plans are in place, authorities said.
Oxfam said the government should be acting more quickly. Mercado
said a geological study commissioned by Oxfam suggested that a crater
breach at the weakest, and most likely, point would unleash 2.1
trillion cubic feet of water.
That could combine with mud and ash for a slide of up to 10.6
trillion cubic feet of material, she said.
Mercado said the lake rose 6.6 feet in the past month and this
year's rainy season, which started in June and is to end in October,
could breach the volcano.
The 4,740-foot volcano, 55 miles north of Manila, became famous in
June 1991 when it exploded after a 500-year slumber, dumping billions
of tons of volcanic debris, killing 800 people and erasing entire
farm communities. It temporarily cooled the world's temperature as
its ash deflected sunlight.
The explosion also blew 985 feet off Pinatubo's top, opening the
crater to tropical downpours and typhoons, according to Punongbayan.
Pinatubo, sitting atop a massive magma lake, remains classified as
one of the Philippines' 22 active volcanos and another eruption,
although unlikely in the near future, would have unpredictable
consequences, volcanologists say.
Scientists believe it comes to life only every few centuries but
admit they aren't certain. Before 1991, the volcano had not exploded
for 460 to 500 years.
A volcano is classified as active if it has erupted at least once
in the last 10,000 years, according to volcanologists.
In June 1998, a similar crater lake collapsed in Nicaragua's
Casita volcano under pressure from Hurricane Mitch. More than 2,000
people were killed when the lake burst.
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