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Following owners, thousands of cows, buffaloes evacuated away from restive Philippine volcano

Mayon volcano belches red-hot emissions down it's slope as seen from Legaspi, Albay province, northeastern Philippines, Sunday, June 11, 2023. Albay was placed under a state of calamity last week to allow more rapid disbursement of emergency funds in case a major eruption unfolds. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

DARAGA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine authorities were evacuating more than 2,000 cows and water buffaloes away from a restive volcano to minimize potential losses in case of a major eruption, officials said Sunday.

The farm animals were being herded out of rural communities within a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) radius of Mayon volcano’s crater in northeastern Albay province to 25 temporary grazing area. They’re following more than 12,600 villagers who have moved to emergency shelters since last week, when Mayon began spewing superheated gas and heavy ashfall in a sign of a possible major eruption within days or weeks.

Thousands more people may still need to be relocated to shelters, usually schools and other public buildings, officials said.

“It’s not only people that should be brought to safety but their farm animals too,” Albay provincial veterinarian Manny Victorino told The Associated Press. He said authorities were taking steps to avoid a deeper economic impact if the volcano erupts.

In Matnog village in Daraga town, Victorino and his team of veterinarians provided deworming medicine, injected vitamin supplements and punched identifying tags to the ears of several cows and buffaloes for better monitoring.

Animal evacuations had preceded Mayon eruptions in the past, Victorino said, adding that the Philippines and Indonesia, which is also prone to earthquakes, have compared and shared techniques.

The cattle evacuations underscore the government’s dilemma in dealing with threats from about two dozen active volcanoes, led by Mayon, across the sprawling archipelago. Located in the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the Philippines is also lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms a year, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.

Albay was placed under a state of calamity on Friday to allow more rapid disbursement of emergency funds in case a major eruption unfolds. On Thursday, authorities raised the alert level for the 2,462-meter (8,077-feet) volcano.

A key tourist draw for its picturesque conical shape, Mayon is one of the country’s 24 active volcanoes. It last erupted violently in 2018, displacing tens of thousands of villagers.

In 1814, Mayon’s eruption buried entire villages and reportedly left more than 1,000 people dead. But many of Albay’s people have accepted the volcano’s fury as a part of their lives.

On Sunday morning, throngs of people jogged or biked, joined a group dancing to disco music and walked their dogs in a seaside promenade in Albay’s capital city of Legazpi. About 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) away, the volcano lay hidden in thick clouds.

A resident, Violeto Peralta, caught attention when he painted an image of Mayon’s explosive eruption on the concrete fence of his roadside house. Passing schoolchildren, he said, will be happy to see his painting as a backdrop for their selfies.

He said that many businesses in the province have grown rich from diverse tourist activities that have sprung from Mayon, including sightseeing tours to gravel and sand that could be found in abundance around the country’s most active volcano.

“We’re not scared of it,” the 76-year-old said. “We’ve learned to live with it.”