LEGAZPI CITY –- More than seven thousand villagers living within the eight-kilometer danger zone of Mayon volcano have started going home Saturday after scientists lowered the alert level of the rumbling mountain.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) early Saturday lowered a five-stage alert over Mayon volcano from level 4 to 3, saying there was "less probability of a hazardous explosive eruption."

Alert Level 3 means that there is less probability of a hazardous explosive eruption.  However, the lowering of the alert level from 4 to 3 should not be interpreted that the unrest of the volcano has ceased, the institute’s bulletin said.

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It added that if there is resurgence in the volcano’s activity and the potential for explosive eruptions is perceived to be forthcoming, the alert level may be raised back to 4 but if there is noticeable downward trend in the monitored parameters, then the alert will be further lowered to Alert Level 2.

Chief State Volcanologist Renato Solidum said scientists were closely monitoring the volcano and will raise the alert in case of a resurgence of activity.

"At the moment, the activity of the volcano is declining, but the volcanic unrest is still high," he said.

The institute said in a statement that it noted "a declining trend in Mayon volcano's activity."

It cited the absence of ash ejections over the past four days, weak steam emissions, declining amounts of sulfur dioxide gas – an indicator of rising magma. It also said majority of earthquakes recorded in the past days have been associated with rock-falls, not rising magma.

The latest activity of Mayon still indicates that its overall state of unrest remains relatively high.  However, this phase of unrest, characterized by moderate seismicity, high volcanic gas outputs and continuing glow of the summit are processes normally associated with very gradual return to the repose period. 

The volcanic system is expected to continue producing earthquakes and to vent a large amount of gases because fresh magma still resides along the whole length of the volcanic pipe and near the summit, the bulletin stated.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda said only 9,000 out of the 29,000 evacuees can go home.

“Residents who can go home are only those who reside in the seven to eight kilometers of the danger zone. Those living on the six kilometer radius permanent danger zone will remain in [the] evacuation centers,” Salceda said.

The Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council, the Albay government, Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have started decamping the 7,218 evacuees.

An estimate of 15 to 20 military 6x6 trucks will be used to transport residents back to their homes, said Captain Razaleigh Bansawan, spokesperson of 901st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army and Task Force Mayon, in a radio interview.

The AFP has likewise removed checkpoints and chokepoints in the eight-kilometer danger zones and transferred them to the six-kilometer radius permanent danger zone.

Earlier, Salceda said residents who are set to go back will receive 25 kilos of rice from the World Fund and P1,400 from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Classes are also set to resume on Monday.

“Residents will surely be sent home and because of this, the students can already use the schools,” Salceda said.

Salceda earlier decided that classes will be suspended within a week to accommodate the evacuees.

"We are very very happy we are going home to our village," said 59-year-old seamstress Myrna Avellano. "We had a sad Christmas and New Year's Eve at the evacuation center."

Mayon, known for its perfect cone, has erupted nearly 40 times in 400 years, sending people packing for months at a time. But never has it happened during the all-important Christmas celebration, when Filipinos gather with family and friends for traditional meals and merry-making. (Angela Casauay/AP/Sunnex)