LEGAZPI, Philippines, Dec. 25, 2009 -- Thousands of families spent Christmas in crowded gymnasiums and schools -- temporary shelters as the alert level for the Mayon volcano in the Philippines lingers at the second-highest stage.
On Christmas Eve, the clear view of the volcano's almost perfectly shaped cone was in sharp contrast to the fountain of red hot lava against a black night sky.
"No compromise, everybody should evacuate the place," Col. Marlou Salazar, commander of Task Force Mayon, bellowed to his team.
Making the rounds Thursday, the army expedited the evacuation process house by house.
Soldiers helped collect T-shirts and shorts hanging from clothes lines and loaded personal belongings, like pots and pans, into trucks.
Residents were escorted away from their homes with their families, their children and any possessions they were able to hand carry with them.
In one house a Christmas tree remained inside as the front door was boarded up for the holidays.
For the past week, evacuees have attended mass gatherings to pray at their makeshift shelters.
At one site families came together to sing a song called "Come Jesus Come."
At another site, local policemen and policewomen wore Santa hats, tossed candy to the crowd, and danced on a stage to the song "I Will Survive."
"We're doing this to keep the people here in the evacuation center, for us to have zero casualties," said police inspector Rose Panganiban.
Clowns Bring Christmas Cheer to Evacuees
On Christmas Eve, the biggest holiday of the year in a predominantly Catholic country, clowns performed magic shows and student volunteers dressed in costume to help usher in holiday cheer to evacuees.
Volcanologists continue to monitor Mayon around the clock.
Uncertain if they will raise or lower the alert level from its second-highest stage, today being the sixth day at this level, they methodically analyze the volcano's gas output, magma pressure and track each earthquake.
"The saying goes for volcanology that there could be a lull before the storm," said Eduardo Laguerta, resident volcanologist from the Mayon Volcano Observatory. "So with that," he said, "we have to give a few days before we really assess if it is still going up or going down."
In the evacuation centers laundry is hung from classroom windows. Some people play basketball to pass the time, others make fires from stacked wood on the ground to cook, many here anxiously anticipating the next stage of Mayon.
Miki Toda and Anna Cerezo contributed to this report.