Getting Out of the Volcano Danger Zone

Thousands of animals await evacuation from Mayon volcano.

ByABC News
December 31, 2009, 11:15 AM

LEGAZPI, Philippines, Dec. 31, 2009 — -- Aid organizations plan to evacuate more than 4,000 animals to fields outside the danger zone of Mayon, the Philippines' most active volcano.

The government designated them as a priority, although about 2,000 water buffalo, 1,000 cattle, 5,500 pigs, 19,000 poultry and 4,600 dogs are in need of immediate evacuation, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is on the ground in Legazpi.

"It's an incredible logistical challenge," Dick Green, the agency's emergency relief manager for disasters, said Tuesday. "Probably the biggest one I've ever had."

Behind him, water buffalo were being loaded into trucks, letters and numbers brushed in white paint on their bodies for authorities to keep track and owners to identify them.

"We can get 10 to 12 water buffalo in that truck," Green said. "That equates to over 400 round trips. The minimum round-trip time is 20 minutes from any of these shelters and probably closer to an hour each way."

In addition to such logistical challenges, aid organizations have run into resistance from farmers, some refusing to transport their animals because they rely on them to work their land, which is, in many cases, their only source of income.

The cost of a water buffalo, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, is about $500, depending on age, sex and weight. It takes one water buffalo about a week, at $8 a day, to till about 2.5 acres of rice paddy fields.

Economics aside, many farmers are wary of transporting their animals.

Salvador Perez watched Tuesday as his four cows were unloaded at an animal evacuation site; each receiving a multi-vitamin injection.

"We are not assured if it's really safe here because it's our first time," Perez said to ABC News, explaining that an evacuation of this scale has never been done before.

Perez was most worried about Janice, his water buffalo, who is 8 months pregnant. He was concerned that the stress of a transfer might cause a miscarriage.

In anticipation of families attempting to celebrate New Year's together back at home, Gov. Joey Salceda has tightened the screws within the danger zone.

In an effort Wednesday night to prevent residents within a 5-mile radius of Mayon from sneaking back to their homes, Salceda ordered the power supply to be cut off.