LEGAZPI, Philippines, Jan. 2, 2009 -- Volcanologists lowered the alert level for Mayon volcano from 4 to 3 this morning, reflecting a gradual decrease in activity.
"Our primary concern is the people," resident volcanologist Eduardo Lajuerta told ABC News, explaining that their decisions to raise or lower the alert level comes from studying the past activity of Mayon.
Almost all of the 47,000 residents living on the slopes of the volcano and within a five-mile danger zone area in the central Philippines had moved to emergency shelters as lava and earthquakes pointed to what officials said could be a major eruption.
This is the first time since 1616, Mayon's earliest recorded eruption, that volcanologists have seen this pattern of small explosions without a major eruption.
"Using instruments and what is visible," Lajuerta said, "what we did here is beneficial to science."
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda described today's announcement as "a truncated climax in emotional terms."
After celebrating Christmas and New Year's in crowded schools and gymnasiums, residents are now able to return home.
Classes at the schools used for evacuation centers are scheduled to resume on Monday.
"This is good news for us," said Principal Rogie Montiveros as she watched the Philippine army help transport evacuees from the centers.
Villagers Had Braced for the Active Mayon Volcano
"We know there is Mayon," Gov. Salceda said, while expressing relief despite this being his 12th evacuation in this area prone to volcanic activity and typhoons, "we should prepare for it."
The city was bracing to "let nature take its course," Salceda told ABC News, "but the prayers of the evacuees were very strong."