Volcano continues to spew ash

Plume reaches more than 6 miles high

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Lonnie Kennedy was taking everything in stride Monday after a volcano next to the cattle ranch where he lives with his family on Umnak Island exploded over the weekend.

Jacquelyn Martin / The Associated Press
Jacquelyn Martin / The Associated Press

"No worries," Kennedy said, when asked how he and the family were doing after being rescued by a fishing vessel that brought them Sunday to Dutch Harbor.

The volcano, on the other hand, was still agitated, spewing out a huge plume of ash reaching more than 6½ miles high.

"It is still kind of upset," said John Power, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey's Alaska Volcano Observatory. "It is still pushing out ash. It is still behaving explosively."

The Okmok Caldera, a 3,500-foot volcano on the island about 60 miles west of the fishing port of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, erupted at 11:43 a.m. Saturday. The volcano is six miles across and contains more than a dozen cones.

The volcano's significant ash cloud was moving in a southeasterly direction Monday over the North Pacific.

A light amount of ash was reported in Dutch Harbor on Saturday but there has been little if any accumulation since.

Monday's hazy skies might be due to some ash in the air, said Mechele Palmer, supervisor of the airport weather station. She noticed Sunday that planes when landing were kicking up small clouds of ash.

When the volcano last erupted in 1997, it remained active for eight months, producing a significant amount of lava and spewing out ash.

This time, the volcano's seismic activity peaked a few hours after the initial explosion Saturday and has been slowly declining since.

The volcano, however, remained Monday in a near state of continuos eruption.

Power said a "thermal anomaly" showed up on satellite imagery on the western side of the Okmok Caldera. Scientists aren't sure if it is lava because the huge ash cloud is blocking the view.

The Okmok Caldera is capable of producing a lot of lava.

"If it follows the script, we would expect to see some lava at some point," Power said.

The fishing vessel Tara Gaila picked up Kennedy, members of his family and two ranch hands on Saturday evening after receiving an urgent call from the Coast Guard and brought them to Dutch Harbor.

Kennedy, a lifelong rancher, said he expects the 5,000 head of cattle are doing fine. The ranch is six miles from the volcano.

If the ash becomes so deep they can't eat the grass, cattle can go a long time without food, he said. The island has plenty of water.

"Animals, generally speaking, survive natural disasters better than humans do," he said.

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