MALILIPOT, Philippines (AP) — Nearly 20,000 people fled an erupting Philippine volcano and took refuge in schools, disrupting the education of thousands of students, many of whom are holding classes in chapels and tents or under trees. , authorities said Friday.
The Mayon volcano in northeast Albay province, one of the 24 deadliest active volcanoes in the Philippine archipelago, began spewing lava Sunday night in a mild eruption that has caused no injuries or deaths. But it could drag on for months and lead to a protracted humanitarian crisis, authorities warned.
Most of those forced to evacuate live in farming villages within a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) radius of the volcano’s crater, which has long been designated a permanent danger zone but has been home of prosperous communities for generations.
Evacuees were directed to more than 20 emergency shelters, most of which are elementary and high school campuses. Each classroom has become an overcrowded sanctuary for several families with sleeping mats, bags of clothes, stoves for cooking and toys for the children.
More than 17,000 students in five towns in Albay are among those affected by displacement from the eruption. About 80% continue their daily school lessons through an emergency system in which parents teach their children at home or elsewhere using “learning modules” provided by the school, said Alvin Cruz of the Education Department. in Albay.
The temporary distance learning approach for students was widely used during the two years of the coronavirus pandemic, when most of the Philippines was under a police-imposed lockdown that restricted people to their homes.
“We come from the pandemic and the learning loss was severe, and now we have the Mayón volcano erupting,” Cruz told The Associated Press. “Our challenge now is how to track displaced schoolchildren so that we can give their parents the learning modules.”
Some teachers are trying to continue in-person classes, meeting their students inside common rooms, chapels, gyms and day care centers, outside in gardens and under trees, or even in school hallways, Cruz said.
“We can’t do anything because we are in an emergency,” he said. “We will always find ways to ensure continuity of learning.”
On the San Jose Elementary School campus, now packed with more than 2,400 displaced villagers in the city of Malilipot, AP journalists saw teachers conducting classes along narrow corridors in the open air, in a flower garden, indoors of a small cabin for guests and under the shade of a tree.
“Life must go on despite the volcano,” said teacher Shirley Banzagales as she taught a math class for 13 uniformed children under a mango tree. “Now we are essentially in an evacuation camp, but I have to continue teaching my students.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. flew to Albay on Wednesday to reassure displaced villagers, distribute food and discuss with the provincial governor and city mayors the impact of the eruption on villagers, schoolchildren and the province’s economy.
The eruption is the latest natural calamity to test the administration of Marcos, who took office last June in a Southeast Asian nation considered one of the most disaster-prone in the world. Around 20 typhoons and storms hit the Philippines every year, and the archipelago with 24 active volcanoes is rocked by frequent earthquakes.
Marcos told evacuees at a center that it could take up to three months before the volcanic eruption subsides and allows them to return home.
Some of the displaced villagers have complained about the heat and overcrowding in emergency shelters, and local officials have vowed to provide more electric fans and improve their condition.
Albay Governor Edcel Greco Lagman expanded the permanent danger zone around Mayon to a 7-kilometre radius on Monday and warned people living nearby to be ready to leave quickly if volcano conditions intensify.
Mayon appeared calm on Friday, although government volcanologists said lava was still slowly flowing down its slopes and could not be easily seen in bright sun.
The 8,077-foot (2,462-meter) volcano is one of the Philippines’ top tourist attractions due to its picturesque conical shape, but it is the most active of the country’s 24 known volcanoes. The last violent eruption was in 2018, displacing tens of thousands. An 1814 eruption buried entire towns and killed more than 1,000 people.
Associated Press writer Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.