July 14, 2008

Alaskan Island Residents Evacuate Following Volcanic Eruption

Ten Alaskan residents were forced to evacuate the eastern side of Umnak Island after a volcano erupted, sending a cloud of ash 35,000 feet into the air.

The eruption of Okmok Volcano, located in Alaska's Aleutian chain, began just before noon and continued through Saturday night, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Residents of a nearby cattle ranch located on the island sought evacuation shortly after eruption, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Umnak residents were taken to Unalaska, the Coast Guard said.

The volcano rises to 3,520 feet and is located about 65 miles southwest of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, a major fishing port with 4,300 full-time residents, and about 900 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Residents in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor have been showered with a light ashfall, according to Alaska Volcano Observatory geologist Jennifer Adleman. Ashfall has resulted in the cancellation of at least two airline flights into Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.

"There have been reports of eye irritation and people being able to taste it, if you will," Adleman said. "Some folks have seen it on their windshields."

Okmok Volcano is highly active, with about 16 eruptions occurring every 10 to 20 years since 1805, she said. The last eruption was in 1997, an event that produced ash clouds and a lava flow that traveled five miles across the volcano's caldera floor, she said.

There is a small Aleut village, Nikolski, that is also located on the other side of Umnak Island. That village of about 40 people is to the west of Okmok Volcano and out of the southeasterly path of the ash cloud.


Image 1: Aerial view looking north of Okmok caldera, a 9.3-km- diameter (5.8 mi) circular crater that truncates the top of a large shield volcano on the northeastern part of Umnak Island in the eastern Aleutian Islands. (Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys)

Image 2: Eruption cloud from Okmok Volcano, taken from an estimated height of 20,000 ft above sea level. Cloud top estimated at 30,000 to 35,000 feet. (USCG Air Station Kodiak, AK)


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