Two months ago, two Russian built Mi-17 helicopters were rolled out of the belly of an IL-76 transport aircraft at Manila's international airport. They had been flown to help ferry food, relief items and personnel to areas hit by Tropical Storm Ketsana and Typhoon Parma only days earlier. The helicopters were quickly put into service and remained in service in support of humanitarian operations until recently.
Before the aircraft could return home an assessment flight of the newly active Mt Mayon volcano in Albay Province was requested by the head of the Philippine's Office of Civil Defense (OCD), General Glenn Rabonza (Ret). Recent volcanic earthquakes and ash plumes had recently indicated that the volcano was once again returning to life and General Rabonza wanted a first hand look. On the wall of his office at OCD headquarters is a 1:50,000 scale map of Mt Mayon and the surrounding area. During a visit General Rabonza remarked to one visitor, while pointing at the map, "This is my nightmare".
The helicopter, which was chartered by WFP's United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), departed from Villamor Air Base in Manila with a contingent of international and Filipino disaster specialists and headed up the lava slope toward the summit of the volcano. Little did anyone know that the flight would prove to be an incredibly valuable information gathering mission. Only days later Mt Mayon began spewing ash and lava in earnest and it is anticipated the volcano will erupt in the next few days or weeks. Approximately 48,000 people have now been evacuated to 29 evacuation centers far from the volcano's base and the information collected during the overflight has been an invaluable asset in the planning of the government's emergency response. Here is footage from the actual assessment mission:
Since the raising of the alert level for Mt Mayon, the Logistics Cluster, for which WFP is the chair, has transported and erected a mobile storage hub at a nearby Navy base in Legazpi City, providing warehousing for relief items. It has also transported approximately 53 metric tonnes of government food and non-food items from Manila to the mobile storage hub. Last week 20 metric tonnes of High Energy Biscuits (HEB's) have been distributed to the evacuees with the first load arriving to cheers from the crowds of children in the centers. In preparation for the possible eruption of Mt Mayon the Philippines Government and international humanitarian community is working to position additional tents at evacuation centers in the region and to position latrines and additional water and sanitation facilities. With WFP resources at their disposal the Philippino Government and its people are now better prepared than ever to respond in the event of an eruption.
Special thanks to Bernard Kerblat, Logistics Cluster and the WFP Philippines team!