This volcano stands about 150 miles south of Manila, the Philippine capital, and looms above the bustling city of Legazpi. More than 2400 meters (~8,000 feet) tall, Mayon is the most active of the numerous volcanoes dotting the Philippine Islands. The volcanoes of the Philippines, in turn, are part of a much longer chain of volcanoes, called the Ring of Fire, that encircles the Pacific Ocean from South America up to Alaska, across to Russia, and down through Japan and Indonesia.
Mayon Volcano has the classic conical shape of a stratovolcano. Since 1616, Mayon has erupted 47 times. The beautifully symmetrical Mayon volcano, which rises to 2,460 meters above the Albay Gulf, is the Philippines’ most active volcano. The structurally simple volcano has steep upper slopes that average 35-40 degrees and is capped by a small summit crater. The historical eruptions of this basaltic-andesitic volcano date back to 1616 and range from Strombolian to basaltic Plinian. Eruptions occur predominately from the central conduit and have also produced lava flows that travel far down the flanks. Pyroclastic flows and mudflows have commonly swept down many of the approximately 40 ravines that radiate from the summit and have often devastated populated lowland.
The legend of Mount Mayon attempts to unravel the mystery of the origin of this magnificent chunk of earth. It seems that there once lived a very beautiful native princess who had an uncle named Magayon. He was so possessive of his niece that no man dared to challenge his wrath by courting the favors of the young maiden. One day, however, a brave and virile warrior was so smitten by the princess that he threw all cares to the wind, clambered up through the window of the royal chamber and enticed the girl to elope with him. With Magayon at their heels, the couple prayed to the gods for assistance. Suddenly from out of nowhere, a landslide buried the raging uncle alive. Local folks now claim that it is Magayon’s anger bursting forth in the form of eruptions.
Recently, many people in Albay are still cautious and having doubts that Mayon will erupt again. Based on its behavior and active tectonic setting suggest that the volcano will continue to erupt for thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years to come. From a human perspective, however, there is good news: the number of Mayon’s fatalities has dropped significantly in the past hundred years, even as the population of the surrounding area has grown. Mayon will never be completely safe but volcanologists will continue to get better at forecasting its activity. Eruptions aren’t the only danger. An eruption produces tons of ash and debris, which settle loosely back to earth. Subsequent earthquakes (common around volcanoes) can jolt the debris free, causing deadly landslides. Heavy rains can cause lahars, or mudslides. Fortunately, Mayon’s recent eruption happened during the Philippine dry season. But the danger is ever-present. In 1766, 2,000 people died when rivers of hot mud, set loose by rains months after one of Mayon’s eruptions, swept over surrounding villages.