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40,000 Philippine Villagers Being Evacuated - 2001-09-05

Thousands of villagers in the northern Philippines are being evacuated as government workers prepare to drain an overflowing lake from nearby Mount Pinatubo.

The head of the national disaster coordinating council, General Melchor Rosales, says the Philippine government is attempting to evacuate all 40,000 residents in the farming town of Botolan before daybreak Thursday. "This is just a precautionary evacuation to get them out of harm's way if the estimates were mistaken. We have several evacuation centers. Most of them are in school buildings," Rosales said. The village lies just 40 kilometers from Mount Pinatubo where engineers Thursday will begin releasing millions of cubic meters of water from the crater-lake. Recent heavy rains have left the lake dangerously swollen. Its surface is said to be less than two meters from the rim of the volcano.

Scientists using high-pressure pumps will direct the water to a canal built through the wall of the crater and into the South China Sea. But scientists say there is a chance that the lake could overflow and bury Botolan under a mountain of mud and debris.

Hundred of families riding military trucks, buses, buffalo-drawn carts and horses have been leaving their homes since early Wednesday. But hundreds more are refusing to go. Botolan's mayor says he will forcibly evacuate the villagers if they continue to resist.

In 1998, about 2,000 people were killed when the crater lake inside Casita volcano in Nicaragua overflowed.

Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines has its own deadly history. After laying dormant for centuries, it erupted in 1991, killing more than 800 people.