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Volcano blasts intensify; U.S. air base in jeopardy

A series of violent volcanic eruptions in the Philippines late Wednesday night and early today produced a hail of ash and sand that blocked out the sun and coated roads and fields with white grit resembling snow. A huge mushroom cloud that witnesses likened to a nuclear blast billowed more than 50,000 feet into the sky after the latest eruption this morning from Mount Pinatubo, a long-dormant volcano about 55 miles northwest of Manila.

Heavy rains on Mount Pinatubo have sent huge mudflows cascading down the volcano's flanks along with molten rock. Still, only two people have been reported killed so far.

Wednesday's eruptions of Mount Pinatubo forced the evacuation of 600 Americans from the U.S. military's nearby Clark Air Base and panicked residents of the adjacent city of Angeles. About 900 Americans, most of them U.S. Air Force security personnel, remained to guard against intruders at the sprawling base.

Because there is no way of knowing for sure when the area will again be safe, the eruption is threatening the future of Clark Air Base, one of the largest U.S. military facilities outside the United States.

Experts say that considering the number of active volcanoes in heavily populated areas of the world _ in May, 30 volcanoes around the world, including seven in Japan, showed some kind of activity _ it is remarkable how few people have died in eruptions in the 20th century.

Meanwhile, airlines were keeping close track of the cloud of ash floating downwind from the Philippines and were considering suspending flights in the area. Experts said the debris could stall the engines of planes that try to fly through it.

Most vulcanologists suspect coincidence in timing of Philippines, Japan eruptions. 3A