April 6, 2009

Residents Ready For Alaskan Volcano To Quiet Down

Residents of Alaska's largest city near Mount Redoubt are being forced to take strong measures due to the irritation caused by volcanic ash spewing from the volcano's top, the Associated Press reported.

Those near the volcano occasionally have to wear air-filtration masks and stretch panty hose over the air intake of cars and trucks.

Anchorage resident Brad Sandison, a retired truck driver and avid cyclist who carries a face mask and goggles whenever he rides near the volcano, said he is losing his patience with the mountain.

"I would like it to have a big boom and get it over with," he said.

Redoubt tends to erupt every decade or so and can spew ash for months at a time. At least 19 eruptions have been recorded since March 22, including the recent eruption on Saturday.

Hundreds of canceled airline flights have already reduced the number of shipments flowing through the city's FedEx cargo facility, cutting shipments of fresh Alaskan seafood.

Additionally, health risks from breathing problems are another concern for the city's citizens.

Dr. Teresa Neeno of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska said respiratory patients should avoid being outdoors when the ash is falling and those who must be outside should wear a protective mask.

Lin Walters of Nikiski, said her 81-year-old mother has severe asthma problems whenever the volcano blows. She has to put on her mask because they never know which way the ash is falling, she said.

"She has a whole box of them sitting beside her recliner," she added.

The active volcano last erupted in late 1989 and early 1990 and those activities went on for four months.

One ash cloud undetected by radar knocked out all four engines of a jetliner, which descended 13,000 feet before its engines could be restarted, although the plane was able to successfully land.

However, Redoubt is not expected to erupt violently, according to seismologists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory who are tracking the volcano's action.

During activity, the mountain often blows ash and gas as molten rock forms a dome at the top that eventually collapses, resulting in eruptions.

Unfortunately, those monitoring Redoubt have no way of predicting when the volcano will erupt or what direction the wind will blow the ashes.

But a new volcanic ash-tracking model developed by researchers at the Alaska Volcano Observatory now provides updates on its activity every three hours online. People in the area can log on to the site to detect the height of the ash plume and then view a model of where the ash cloud is likely to go over the span of several hours.

The National Weather Service also constantly updates people in the area with ash advisories in the same way they track storms and floods.

Alaska Airlines has been forced to cancel some 300 flights, affecting an estimated 20,000 passengers since the latest eruptions started.

The Anchorage airport's shipping system became clogged with delayed cargo when the volcano forced a 20-hour shutdown last weekend.

Dannon Southall, a wholesale salesman for 10th and M Seafoods in Anchorage, said it kind of created a domino effect with all the cargo stations around the state and in Seattle and Portland. "The wind shifts every day," he added.

He also said airlines now have less space for boxes of crab, salmon, cod and halibut due to thousands of displaced passengers that were bumped from canceled flights. Southall added that cargo space is now taken up with luggage that needs to be returned to its owners.

The weather service said the volcano produced another large eruption Saturday, but radar indicated a plume of volcanic ash rose 50,000 feet into the sky, making it one of the largest eruptions since the volcano became active on March 22.

FedEx is now diverting most cargo through its hub in Oakland, Calif., with one or two flights also going to Seattle, rather than dealing with the delays in anchorage.

Spokeswoman Sally Davenport said FedEx normally operates 21 flights in and out of Anchorage each day, but that has now been reduced to three.

But Anchorage citizens are keeping a close watch and hoping for the best.

"The second you get that false sense of security, it is going to go boom," Southall said.

Image Courtesy Heather Bleick, AVO/USGS


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