Video: Volcano awakens

updated 1/15/2006 4:44:44 AM ET 2006-01-15T09:44:44

Towering blasts of ash and steam from an uninhabited island volcano in south-central Alaska will likely continue for days or weeks, but scientists say there’s little chance of a catastrophic eruption.

“Judging by the past, this volcano tends to put out a series of small eruptions,” said Michelle Coombs, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey office in Anchorage. “We don’t expect it to culminate in a large event.”

Six eruptions recorded on Friday and early Saturday from the 4,134-foot (1,315-meter) Augustine Volcano sent plumes of ash drifting across Cook Inlet into several Kenai Peninsula communities. A pilot reported seeing one plume about 10 miles (16 kilometers) in the air. The eruptions halted air travel and closed schools Friday.

“A very likely scenario is this kind of activity over the next several days or weeks,” Coombs said.

Each of the latest eruptions has lasted just a few minutes, Coombs said. In comparison, Mount Spurr, 80 miles (128 kilometers) west of Anchorage, erupted three times in 1992 with each eruption lasting about four hours.

Augustine, 180 miles (288 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage, was hidden by fog and largely silent after its midnight eruption Saturday. The observatory reported low-level seismic activity throughout the day. Winds ferried ash from the volcano to the southeast, away from communities on the Kenai Peninsula, according to the National Weather Service. Airlines based in Anchorage resumed normal flights.

A fine coat of pale gray-colored ash darkened the snow and clung to vehicles in Nanwalek, 55 miles (88 kilometers) east of Augustine.

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Some residents were wary Saturday, fearful that ash would disrupt air service, the main source of transportation to and from the village. Many wore dust masks to Russian Orthodox church services Friday as ash began dimming the skies.

“Hopefully it won’t blow up on us,” said resident Rhoda Moonin.

The ash clouds can pose a health risk, especially for people with respiratory problems, and they can damage the engines of aircraft and vehicles on the ground.

Charlie Franz, chief executive officer of South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, said his staff was putting extra filters in the hospital’s air handling system.

“Just don’t go out if you don’t have to,” he said. “I think that’s probably the best advice people can get.

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