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Philippine volcano 'fireworks' draw tourists as residents flee

LEGAZPI, Philippines: Spectacular lava "fireworks" shooting from its crater are drawing tourists to the Philippines' most active volcano, authorities said Tuesday (Jan 16) as scientists warned of a potential dangerous eruption within days.

Lava spurting from Mayon volcano lit up the sky overnight Monday in what scientists said was a sign of increasing activity that prompted official calls for evacuation of areas under threat from a major eruption.

But even as thousands of residents flee, tourists are flocking to the area, some 330 kilometres southeast of Manila to watch and photograph the spectacle, Danny Garcia, a spokesman for Albay province told AFP.

"It's a spectacle to watch. It's beauty and fury in one, especially at night. But it's a natural phenomenon so we don't know when an (explosive) eruption will happen," Garcia added.

Mayon, a near-perfect cone that also draws thousands of tourists during its periods of quiet, rises 2,460 metres above Legazpi, a city of about 200,000 people surrounded by a largely agricultural region.

The state volcanology institute described the natural pyrotechnics as "short-duration lava fountaining", an escalation from the slow lava flow from the crater a day earlier.

"If lava has enough gas and material, fragments will be flown up into the air, like the fountain you light up on New Year's Eve," Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), told AFP.

"There is more force involved when the lava would exit so it's more intense than just the lava oozing out."

Ash also rose two kilometres into the sky in the past 24 hours, enveloping surrounding areas in a grey carpet as more residents left their homes for safety.

About 30,000 people in and around Legazpi have fled their homes, the provincial government said on Tuesday, more than double the official count on Monday.

Local governments are tapping emergency funds and working to ensure clean water supply, officials said.

However hotels reported getting more tourist bookings while people flocked to viewing decks to watch the volcano from a distance, the provincial government said although it gave no specific figures.

The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" of islands that were formed by volcanic activity, and is perennially under threat from 22 active volcanoes.

The most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.

Scientists said it was highly unlikely Mayon would have a similar eruption.

"It erupts quite often, and volcanoes that erupt frequently tend to have smaller eruptions than those that erupt less frequently," David Rothery, a geosciences professor at The Open University in Britain, told AFP.

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Sixteen injured from a tourist boat explosion in southern Thailand

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A tourist speedboat carrying 31 passengers exploded in front of Phi Phi Le island in the southern Thailand province of Krabi on Sunday, injuring 16, mostly tourists from China, the Phi Phi police told Reuters.

The speedboat, named “King Poseidon”, was ferrying 27 Chinese tourists from the nearby resort island of Phuket to Phi Phi before its engine caught fire and exploded injuring 14 tourists and two crew members, the police said, adding that the authority is still investigating the cause of the explosion.

Out of the 16 injured, six are in a severe condition, Phi Phi hospital staff told Reuters, adding that seven people have been sent to hospitals in Phuket for further treatment and nine have been discharged.

Beach resorts and islands in southern Thailand are major tourist attractions, particularly during the high season from November to March.

Tourism accounts for around 12 percent of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy and is one of its fastest growing sectors.

The Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports expects the country to welcome 37 to 38 million tourists in 2018, up from around 35 million visitors last year, 10 million of which were tourists from China.

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Tourist boat explodes off Phi Phi, injuring 16

BANGKOK - A speedboat on its way to the popular Phi Phi Islands beach destination off the western coast of Thailand, with mostly Chinese tourists on board, exploded yesterday, injuring 16 people.

The King Poseidon is believed to have caught fire due to a fuel leak near the Viking Cave, a limestone cave frequented by tourists at the north-western tip of the Phi Phi Islands, after leaving the Thai Morning Sun Pier in nearby Phuket, Phuket Gazette reported.

There were 31 people - 26 Chinese tourists, including three children, and five Thai crew members - on board at the time of the incident.

Phi Phi police told Reuters that 14 tourists and two crew members were injured, adding that they were still investigating the cause of the explosion.

Of the 16 injured, six are in a serious condition, said Phi Phi hospital staff, who told Reuters seven people have been sent to hospitals in Phuket for further treatment and nine have been discharged.

Phuket Gazette initially said one crew member died from burns.

The Consulate-General of China in Songkhla said five Chinese were seriously injured, Xinhua news agency reported.

Beach resorts and islands in southern Thailand are major tourist attractions, particularly during the high season from November to March.

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