LEGAZPI CITY -- Government volcanologists are still not discounting the possibility of major eruption despite lowering the alert status of Mayon volcano to level 3 Saturday.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Director Renato Solidum said the alert level 3 status of the rumbling mountain in Albay province could still change in case a significant increase in volcanic activity is recorded.

“There is still a possibility that the alert status is increased to alert level 4,” said Solidum on Sunday.

Alert level 3 signifies that the possibility of a hazardous eruption has become lower. This might be lowered further in the next few weeks if the volcano does not act up again, said Solidum.

“We have to observe the volcano for at least one more week. But still we should not be confident because an alert level four is still possible,” he said.

Solidum’s announcement came following the sending back of majority of the 47,000 evacuees living near the eight-kilometer danger zone of Mayon volcano on Sunday, after the Phivolcs lowered the alert level status of the cone-shaped mountain.

The Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) reported that up to 7,000 families living in the eight-kilometer danger zone have already gone back to their homes.

Residents living on a six-kilometer radius permanent danger zone around the volcano and a seven-kilometer extended danger zone on the southeast flank of the volcano were, however, prevented from going back home. They are still taking temporary shelters in evacuation camps in Albay, the PDCC reported.

Solidum said "rockfalls are still being recorded” in these danger zones Sunday, thus residents and tourists are warned not to get near. He also warned villagers returning to their farms on the foothills of Mayon to remain wary of lava flows or heavy rains that can dislodge volcanic debris from the slopes.

According to Phivolcs’ Sunday morning advisory, a pale crater glow was observed on Saturday night. As of 7 a.m. Sunday, nine volcanic earthquakes were detected, while sulfur dioxide emission rate was at an average of 2,094 tonnes per day.

With this, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) proposed a "buy out" on lands classified under danger zones and relocation of families from the six-to-seven kilometer permanent danger zones.

NDCC said 2,114 families or 8,765 persons were classified as Economically Disrupted Households (EDH), which means that their livelihood is within the danger area even if they are not residing there.

The coordinating body also reported Sunday that at least P61.286 million was spent for some 47,000 people evacuated from the danger zones around the cone-shaped volcano in the past two weeks.

Situation Report 22 as of 7 a.m. stated that the amount includes assistance from the national government, local government units (LGU), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Of the amount, P9.3075 million came from the NDCC. Another P6.456 million came from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD), P6.915 million from the Department of Health (DOH), P36.014 million from LGUs, and P2.594 million from NGOs.

The relief operations facilitated and conducted by these agencies will continue as the state of unrest of the volcano has not yet ceased.

On Sunday, however, disaster relief officials in the country launched a massive clean-up as tens of thousands of villagers began returning home.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda said he expected all 29 public schools, converted into temporary shelters, to reopen for classes on Monday.

“What we are doing now is conducting a damage assessment. We are on an early recovery stage,” Salceda said. “We are cleaning up schools and classrooms so that classes can resume tomorrow (Monday).”

He ordered, however, that residents from within the six-kilometer permanent danger zone must remain in the evacuation centers until directed otherwise.

Salceda also said that he directed the Bureau of Fire Protection in Albay to spearhead the school clean-up.

“It’s a massive clean-up operation,” he said.

Mayon volcano, located about 330 kilometers southeast of Manila, has erupted 48 times in recorded history. In 1814, more than 1,200 people were killed when lava flows buried the town of Cagsawa. (Virgil Lopez/Angela Casauay/With PNA/Sunnex)