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Nearly 47,000 Filipinos Move Away from Erupting Mayon Volcano

Lava Flow from Mayon

Dec. 17: Lava cascades down the slopes of the Mayon volcano in Legazpi city, Albay province, at dawn about 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. Security forces will forcibly evacuate thousands of residents reluctant to leave their farms near the smoldering volcano, officials said. (AP Photo/Dan Amaranto)

LEGAZPI, Philippines — The number of earthquakes being measured around the Mayon volcano in the central Philippines is dropping, but the quakes are getting stronger. Volcano experts say this increase could indicate that a major eruption is nearing. 

Ash columns continue to rise from the peak, though low clouds have been blocking the view. Red hot lava flows have reached three miles from the crater and scientists have raised the alert level to one step below a hazardous eruption.

The volcano towers over coconut farms and rice paddies. Almost all of the 47,000 residents living on the slopes of the rumbling mountain have moved to emergency shelters.

SLIDESHOW: Mayon Volcano Near Eruption in Philippines

One expert at the University of the Philippines says "technically" the volcano is already erupting because lava has oozed out. But he says a bigger, more explosive eruption is still possible.