Incident Reporting by SAFEY

The Philippines’ reputation for awe-inspiring nature was shaken in early 2018 with the eruption of the Mount Mayon volcano. The volcano is situated on the island of Luzon in Albay province, approximately 11km north of Legazpi city – a large urban population of almost 200,000 residents. Already an active system, Mount Mayon became increasingly volatile in January 2018. Beginning with a large ash cloud on 13 January, the situation quickly escalated over two weeks to include mudslides, pyroclastic flows (lava), high ash clouds and a build-up of magma pressure. The volcanic activity prompted responses from authorities including evacuations, safety exclusion zones and travel disturbances; reminiscent of recent experiences from Mount Agung in Bali, Indonesia, and Mount Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.

On 13 January, an ash cloud prompted an exclusion zone of 6km, with mandatory evacuations and the temporary closure of Legazpi airport. Less than 24 hours later the threat level was upgraded with warnings of potentially significant explosive eruptions from high pressure in the mountain. Less than 48 hours after the first warning, and in keeping with predictions, Mount Mayon erupted violently producing strong lava flows, ash and rock projectiles, and forcing the evacuation of almost 10,000 residents. On 17 January, a state of calamity was issued by authorities, and evacuations escalated to 20,000 residents, and then to 40,000 residents by 19 January. Over the following two weeks, ash plumes, lava flows and rock projectiles continued, as did large-scale evacuations, and the consequences of the eruption quickly spread nationally.

The situation on Mount Mayon was closely monitored by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), working together with the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council to ensure local safety. As the situation developed, the eruptions and similar safety responses were monitored by SAFEY and relayed to its clients.  SAFEY published a total of 15 safety alerts since the first eruption on 13 January, with the situation continuing to develop. The alerts issued through our SAFEY app illustrate how quickly the situation escalated.

Legazpi Airport was closed for a second time on 22 January, followed soon after by the closure of Philippines’ main international hub, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Over the coming days, more evacuations occurred, and on 26 January, a potential three-month state of emergency was being discussed by local authorities. These events indicate a continuing and increasingly severe situation in the region, with ongoing likelihoods for flight disruption and localized threats to safety. For SAFEY, monitoring and reporting all developments rapidly and accurately will always be a priority, to assist clients to minimize the impacts from the disruptions as much as possible.

Timeline of Events

Following is a timeline of the events and reporting by SAFEY

The first sign of an eruption on the Mayon Volcano was an eruption of ash on Saturday 13 January, after which SAFEY provided 14 updates. Here are selected contents of the alerts:

  • First alert by SAFEY at 23:22 (GMT+8) on 13 January

The first alert from SAFEY was sent to inform users about the eruption of ash, the creation of an exclusion (evacuation) zone of 6km radius around Mayon Volcano, and the temporary closure of Legazpi Airport.

  • Multiple alerts by SAFEY on 14-19 January
    • Less than 24 hours after the first alert was issued, activity quickly escalated with lava flows, an ash cloud and mass evacuations. SAFEY reported on each event with 5 alerts issued over the 6 days.
  • Multiple alerts by SAFEY on 22 January
    • Authorities raised the threat level from 2 to 4 (out of a possible 5) and with a severe eruption imminent. Shortly after, Legazpi airport was closed and the exclusion zone extended to 8km as lava, ash and rock ejections were reported. SAFEY advised all clients in the immediate region to re-confirm all travel plans due to flight cancellations.
  • Multiple alerts by SAFEY on 24 January
    • Three alerts were issued on 24 January alone, advising of eruption events as they were reported, along with the renewed closure of Legazpi Airport. At 20:21 (GMT+8), SAFEY advised of the closure of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) signaling a dramatic escalation in consequences for the Mount Mayon eruptions, with flight and travel disruptions now occurring nation-wide.
  • Multiple alerts by SAFEY from 25-27 January
    • Three alerts were issued from 25-27 January, as Mount Mayon edged closer to a severe eruption. Reports of a large build-up of pressure along with the evacuation of up to 80,000 people were advised by SAFEY, along with the likelihood of a protracted three-month-long state of emergency.
  • Most recent alert by SAFEY at 17:17 (GMT+8) on 28 January
    • As of 28 January, Mount Mayon was continuing to affect the area, with mudslides occurring after heavy rains in the region; indicating that the dramatic consequences of the erupting volcano show no signs of abating.