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Mayon volcano alert may be lowered: Philippines

Philippine volcanologists Friday said they may lower the alert level around the Mayon volcano in the coming days amid signs it appeared to be in a lull, three weeks after it began spewing ash and lava.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said no ash explosion was observed over the past 24 hours, and rumblings have lessened significantly.

If no significant events should occur during the next few days, the agency said it will "consider the possibility of lowering the alert level."

Around 50,000 people living in an eight kilometre (five mile) radius danger zone around Mayon were evacuated after the institute raised the alert level to four on a scale of five on December 20, meaning a major eruption could be imminent.

It first began rumbling days earlier, oozing lava and sending plumes of ash into the air.

The eerie spectacle saw the 2,460-metre (8,070-foot) volcano's peak glowing with crimson lava at night, and forced tens of thousands of evacuees to spend Christmas at packed evacuation centres.

Albay provincial governor Joey Salceda expressed relief at the news, and stressed that the worst appears to be over.

"It really looks like 'Mayon drops dead'," Salceda told reporters. "And it seems God answered my prayers and saw the collective preparations of a united people."

Once the alert level is lowered, he said officials would begin returning families, who had been staying in public schools converted into temporary shelters, to their homes.

However, he said over 2,000 families living in villages nearest the volcano would be advised to remain.

Mayon, which is about 330 kilometres (200 miles) 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.

It last erupted for two months in 2006, although no one was directly killed. A powerful typhoon however dislodged tonnes of debris from Mayon's slopes three months later, burying entire towns and killing over 1,000 people.