Gov. Juan N. Babauta yesterday declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth and pronounced Anatahan unsafe for human habitation, as the erupting volcano on that island continued to spew out clouds of ashes that have already reached Philippine jurisdiction.
The Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center estimated the plume at an altitude of 16,000 feet, spreading to approximately 1 million square kilometers above the Pacific Ocean. Mark Ruminski, a meteorologist at the center’s Satellite Analysis Branch, told the Saipan Tribune that the plume was just about 175 kilometers from Palanan City in the Philippines’ Isabela province, and ashfall could be felt on the area soon.
Based on satellite monitoring, clouds of ashes from Anatahan moved westward and spared Saipan and Tinian as of yesterday afternoon.
Babauta, however, declared Anatahan as off-limits, directing the Department of Public Safety to enforce the travel ban to the island. In his declaration, Babauta said the enforcement ban would be carried out with the cooperation of the Emergency Management Office and the office of Northern Islands Mayor, Valentin Taisacan.
“There shall be no permanent residency allowed on Anatahan,” declared Babauta. “Due to continuing volcanic activity on Anatahan, volcanic ash and high level plume is ongoing in the area, presenting a continuing threat of adverse impact in the waters and airspace around Anatahan. The islands of Saipan, Tinian and Aguigan may also experience effects from the ash and plume.”
The governor directed the public—including sea vessels and airplanes—to stay away from within 30 nautical miles around Anatahan. “Except for approved CNMI government personnel, or those on approved scientific missions, Anatahan shall be off-limits and restricted to the general public.”
The state of emergency would last for 30 days, unless the Governor elects to extend the declaration for a similar term. Babauta also authorized DPS to cooperate with federal agencies that could provide enforcement and surveillance assets.
Taisacan agreed with the Governor’s decision to restrict the people from going to Anatahan due to the danger posed by the volcanic activity.
But he said the other islands that comprise the Northern Islands are not off-limits, except for the conservation islands—Uracas, Maug, Guguan and Asuncion. Farallon de Mendinilla is under lease by the U.S. military and is being used for military activities.
Excluding FDM, Anatahan is the closest island north of Saipan at a distance of about 120 kilometers. Next to Anatahan is Sarigan. With the declaration of Anatahan as a restricted area, Taisacan said he is looking into possibly opening up Sarigan for those who might want to settle there.
Taisacan clarified the number of Anatahan inhabitants even exceed 200. The number includes those who have lived on Saipan for a long time.
The mayor said his staff would distribute copies of Babauta’s declaration to Anatahan inhabitants listed on his office’s file. The mayor had said none of the island’s residents was actually on Anatahan when the eruption occurred.
Volcanic eruption continued yesterday afternoon, but the activity appeared to have slightly mellowed down, based on the Washington center’s satellite monitoring.
Ruminski said that clouds of ashes spew out from the crater to an altitude of about 8,000 feet, about half the altitude the ashes were emitted in the past days.
Covering a wide area in the air, Ruminski said aircrafts are advised to stay away from the clouds of ashes. He said there were previous incidents where aircrafts’ engines died down while in the air upon passing through thick clouds of volcanic smoke.
Ruminski said the ashes could remain in the atmosphere for some time, but added that a portion of the Philippines could experience an ashfall. “It’s certainly possible. The ashes will have to come down.”