The U.S. Air Force decided Thursday to withdraw more than 60 percent of its personnel from the Philippines because of damage to Clark Air Base from the Mount Pinatubo volcano.
The decision to withdraw the bulk of the Air Force personnel suggests that damage to Clark, where they had been stationed, is extensive and that it may take months before the facility can be used.Until Thursday, the evacuation of Americans from the Philippines affected primarily military dependents.
Mount Pinatubo spewed more ash over Clark, which is 10 miles away, and other areas during five eruptions Thursday, and regional officials raised the death toll from last week's massive explosions to 227.
Also Thursday, all flights in and out of Manila's airportwere canceled for the day so workers could spread asphalt over tons of ash piled along the runway shoulders.
The U.S. evacuation announcement does not affect Navy and Marine Corps personnel stationed at the Subic Bay Naval Base 25 miles southwest of the volcano.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager said 4,500 Air Force personnel will board ships Friday at Subic and travel south to Cebu, where they will board flights for the United States.
That will leave 2,500 airmen in the Philippines - 1,500 at Clark to guard the base and another 1,000 at Subic.
Petty Officer Jerry Moore said the USS Long Beach, a cruiser, left Subic Thursday with about 500 dependents of military personnel. In all, about 2,000 were expected to be ferried out during the day.
Moore said about 6,000 dependents remain at Subic but are expected to be on their way to Cebu by Friday.