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Alaska Volcano Erupts Again; Experts Predict More Activity

January 15, 2006|Dan Joling | Associated Press Writer

ANCHORAGE — Three more eruptions of Augustine Volcano on Friday sent ash clouds miles into the air and closed schools on the southern Kenai Peninsula but were not expected to pile up dangerous ash in communities.

The mountain, on an isolated and uninhabited island about 180 miles south of Anchorage, first erupted for 44 minutes, starting shortly before 4 a.m., spouting a plume 34,000 feet high, or more than six miles.

A second eruption followed at 8:47 a.m., but lasted only 4 1/2 minutes. The Alaska Volcano Observatory said it sent up a plume at least 30,000 feet high. One pilot's report put the plume at 52,000 feet.

Pilots reported lightning in the plume, observatory spokeswoman Jennifer Adleman said. Lightning is created in ash plumes when particles rub together and generate a static charge.

The volcano erupted again at 11:22 a.m., with a plume again reported over 30,000 feet. Seismic data indicated volcanic mudflows probably were moving down the flanks of the mountain.

Similar explosive activity is expected to continue over the next several days or weeks, Adleman said, and additional eruptions could occur with little or no warning.

The eruptions Friday followed two early Wednesday morning.

The National Weather Service reported winds flowing generally east, pushing the plume toward Seldovia, Homer and other southwest Kenai Peninsula communities.

"The plume direction is going to vary with altitude," Adleman said. Winds were reported from the northeast, southeast and east, at varying altitudes, she said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District shut down all schools from Ninilchik south, said Sam Stewart, assistant superintendent. The closure affects about 2,500 students, he said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus called the plumes a "significant inconvenience" but said they had had no effect on air traffic because jets could be rerouted to avoid the plume.

Temporary flight restrictions remain, banning aircraft within five miles of the volcano and 50,000 feet above it, Fergus said.

Bob Hopkins, meteorologist in charge of the Anchorage office, said the National Weather Service issued an ash cloud advisory for residents from Ninilchik, 38 miles south of Kenai, to Kodiak Island.

About 10,000 people live on the Kenai Peninsula south of Ninilchik and another 6,200 are in the city of Kodiak.

Scott Dickerson, a freelance photographer, climbed hills behind Homer and said a plume could be seen clearly.

The sky above Homer was broken blue in contrast to the dark blue and gray ash cloud moving across Cook Inlet, Dickerson said. By 11 a.m., the plume had moved into Kachemak Bay and appeared from Dickerson's vantage point to be at the tip of the Homer Spit, a nearly 5-mile gravel bar extending into the bay.

Scientists said people with respiratory problems might experience some breathing problems, but the observatory did not expect heavy accumulation of ash.

"It looks like it won't leave much in the way of perceivable dust," said Rick Wessels, a research geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Tom Murray, scientist in charge at the observatory, said the first eruption Friday was stronger than both eruptions Wednesday.

"Definitely more energy," Murray said. "It lasted longer."

The Weather Service warned residents to remain at home or indoors and keep doors and windows closed. It also warned residents not to burn wood in stoves or fireplaces if the wood had volcanic ash on it.

The 4,134-foot volcano erupted in 1976 and 1986. In the latter event, ash from a 7-mile-high column drifted over Anchorage and grounded flights over Cook Inlet.

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