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WOMAN fears volcano that killed husband will claim her, too


BONGA, Philippines (AP) _ Like old injuries that ache in bad weather, the burns that cover a third of Veronica Perez's body hurt every time the nearby Mayon volcano rumbles.

Kept awake the last three days and nights from the pain, Perez said Tuesday she worries that the volcano, which killed her husband eight years ago and has been simmering since exploding to life two days ago, may claim her life, too.

The volcano's renewed volatility has instilled fear in tens of thousands of villagers lured to the foothills of the Mayon by its rich, black volcanic soil.

Few know the hazards better than Perez.

In 1993, an eruption jetted lava into her sweet potato field as her family toiled. A wave of heat killed her husband even before the red-hot debris hit him. Perez tripped in fear, and braced herself on all fours as hot gas and ash swept over her, shearing the flesh from her arms, legs and back.

Her only son, who escaped the worst, carried her to a hospital, where she slipped in and out of consciousness for several weeks.

Perez's fears were awakened anew Sunday as the Mayon puffed ash more than 9 miles high and sent fountains of lava into the air. The lush green landscape 200 miles southeast of Manila quickly turned gray as the ash settled. Area airports closed.

``I don't know what to do,'' Perez said, as she cooked coconut-and-cassava cakes for others who continue to work their fields in the volcano's shadow as she did eight years ago.

The porous black boulders strewn around her concrete home, 2 1/2 miles from Mayon, underscore her fears.

``It can reach even here,'' she said.

After Sunday's eruption, the volcano remained quiet for the second straight day Tuesday, occasionally trickling lava and issuing an immense cloud of steam on a rainy day that sparked fresh fears of mudslides from the loose ash on Mayon's slopes.

Scientists have warned of more pyroclastic flows, streams of ash, gas and rocks that can pour down at 60 mph and incinerate everything in their path.

Volcanologist Jack Puertollano warned that the relative calm is ``not normal'' and that another, possibly more powerful, eruption looms.

``This is just a lull,'' he said.

The 8,118-foot Mayon, a well-known tourist attraction because of its near-perfect conical shape, has erupted at least 47 times since 1616. An ash mud flow buried a town and killed 1,200 people in the worst known eruption in 1814.

Officials have said 20,000 to 30,000 people have been evacuated, but life seeped back into villages Tuesday as residents began returning home, complaining of crowded, unsanitary conditions and food and water shortages at evacuation centers.

Some public transportation was running again. Neighbors chatted over fences, cooked, worked the fields and fed their livestock _ all while keeping a wary eye on the volcano.

Residents of Bonga and 17 other villages in the government-declared danger zone, which extends 5 miles from the volcano, said they most fear the ominous silence that has followed the eruption.

Santos Pocamas, a 63-year-old rice farmer in Bonga, said the five eruptions he already has survived gave warning signs before disaster struck.

``This one shows no danger signs,'' he said.

He was born in Bonga and has frequently looked for an escape but said a lack of work elsewhere has always brought him back.

``It's the fertile soil that keeps people here,'' he said.
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