Mayon Fury

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Mayon planetarium also in danger zone

July 20, 2006 01:35:00
Gil Francis G. Arevalo
Inquirer

FOR students and tourists who wish to enjoy a “heaven on earth” experience while learning all about the majestic Mount Mayon, the Mayon planetarium is a perfect destination.

The facility, built on the volcano’s slope 854 meters above sea level, offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, San Miguel Island, Curangon Shoal, Mount Malinao (another volcano within the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire), nearby towns and lakes, and of course, the famous Mayon skyline.

It also features slide shows or presentations of the volcano’s activities for the past centuries.

But the tourist and educational attraction, also known as the Virtual Mayon Simulation and Observatory Facility, also faces Mayon’s fury when it erupts. It lies within the 6-km permanent danger zone.

Alex Baloloy, science research analyst of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), said the 1,000-sq m planetarium compound is in the northeast quadrant of the volcano, identified as one of the critical areas in case of a major eruption.

Since the early 1990s, major eruptions have inflicted the greatest destruction in terms of casualties in the northeast and southeast quadrants.

“We can never really tell what particular portions will be affected or spared in case we raise the alert level to 4 or 5. Mayon Planetarium is one of the areas that will be directly hit by pyroclastic flows and lava trickles,” Baloloy said.

An alert level 4 or 5 means the permanent danger zone should be completely cleared of residents.

Since it opened in March, the planetarium has become one of the most-sought places to visit in Tabaco City. Aside from schools in Albay, institutions from neighboring provinces have also conducted educational tours there.

The Philippine Tourism Authority and the Department of Science and Technology highly recommended the facility early this year to be one of the pioneering educational sites in the region.

The one-story planetarium has four rooms housing the library, the virtual room, a mini-museum and an audiovisual hall.

It was constructed just 61 meters above the popular Mayon Skyline Hotel and Convention Center, which used to be known as the Mayon Rest House, according to city engineer Juan Berces.

“We considered both the challenge and the danger of building it there, but in cases like the declaration of alert level 3 status, of course, it is advisable for people not to go there. The fact is that Mayon does not erupt all the time and we are always coordinating with the Phivolcs, as well as the Tabaco City Disaster Coordinating Council as far as the status of Mayon is concerned,” Berces said.

Despite the possible danger, he added, many students and tourists are very eager to reach the place and enjoy a clear view of Mayon.

“It may look as if we’re not serious about what’s going on now, but we believe that being at the planetarium provides us an opportunity to experience the thrill and excitement of witnessing the actual eruption of Mt. Mayon,” said Ruben Barcoma, 19, a student and mountain climber from Tabaco.

Resident volcanologist Eduardo Laguerta cautioned that it would be better not to visit the place at this time because of the unpredictable behavior of Mayon.

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