Tens of thousands of Filipinos celebrated Christmas in temporary evacuations centers Friday after having fled their homes in fear of a major volcanic eruption.
With the alert level for the Philippines' Mayon volcano at the second-highest stage, more than 40,000 evacuees had to stay away from their homes and settle for a Christmas in crowded gymnasiums and schools, where they shared rations of noodles, fried fish and fruit, and where children opened donated presents.
According to the National Disaster Coordinating Council, at least 9,754 families, or 46,655 people, are staying in 26 evacuation centers all over the Philippines' Albay province as of 8 a.m. Thursday.
Though the weeklong eruption of the 8,070-foot (2,460-meter) Mayon has been moderate to date, volcanologists say it could escalate within days.
Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), told local news agencies that his recommendation would be for people to stay outside a six-kilometer radius from the volcano's summit to avoid the danger of pyroclastic flows, or the flow of volcanic ash, dust, rocks and debris that rushes down the slope of a volcano.
In its bulletin for Thursday, Phivolcs said Mayon "continued to show an intense level of activity during the past 24-hour observation period." Pyroclastic flows have reportedly been reaching speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour and temperatures of up to 420 degrees Celsius.
"People must realize the danger in the current activity, if they are still inside the danger zones," Solidum said, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In response to Phivocls's recommendations, government officials have been forcibly ordering residents to leave their homes, telling them to take only possessions they are able to carry.
Despite the circumstances, many of the evacuees were able to celebrate Christmas – a major event in the predominantly Catholic country.
In addition to receiving gifts, evacuees were entertained by soldiers in Santa hats and students in clown costumes, who sang songs and performed magic tricks.
Meanwhile, forcible evacuation continued Friday in at-risk villages within the danger zones. Forced evacuation was going on Friday at Ligao City as well as the towns of Guinobatan and Camalig in the northwest, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.