As Mount St. Helens continues to vent steam and ash in preparation for what geologists say may be a very large eruption in coming days, communities in Oregon and Washington state are readying contingency plans to handle the fallout.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -
"We have had contingency plans in place for this since 1980," said Scott Farris, spokesman for Portland Mayor Vera Katz, referring to the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens. "Last week, Mayor Katz reminded all the bureaus that it was time to make sure everything was up to date."
One key goal is to make certain that emergency vehicles will be able to operate even under heavy ash fall, he said.
"One problem with ash is it clogs motor parts," Farris said. "We were assured all the emergency vehicles are ready to go. They have plans about how to keep the filters clear."
If heavy ash fall occurs, the city will change its water supply to underground aquifers because, although no health effects are expected, the water would otherwise appear dirty instead of clear, Farris said.
Farris said the city asks residents not to use their hoses to wash ash into the gutters, where it can clog the system, but instead to sweep it up and put it in containers that would later be picked up.
Clark, Skamania and Cowlitz Counties also have comprehensive emergency preparedness plans in place, said Deborah Needham, emergency management coordinator for Clark County.
The counties will coordinate local road closures and cleanup, she said. They're also prepared for possible health effects that might impact local hospitals and possible disruption to electrical service because the ash can cause short circuits, she said.
Residents can prepare for a possible eruption by having 72 hours' worth of supplies, including canned and dry food and drinking water, on hand, Needham said. She also recommended that people stay indoors during active ash fall, closing their doors and windows to try to keep ash out of their homes.
She also recommended keeping house roofs clear of ash and putting stoppers over drain pipes so ash that falls in gutters doesn't clog the drain pipes.
Dr. Justin Denny of Clark County Public Health warned that people with respiratory problems like asthma should avoid being exposed to ash.
"If you see the ash in the air, you know you're being exposed," Denny said. "If you can't see well through it, it's best to stay out of it."
He recommended that people who can't stay indoors during heavy ash fall wear a dust mask and goggles that seal around the eyes.
"The lining of the eye can ulcerate and get a sort of crater inside. So we want you to be sure to have some eye protection if you're going to be outside in heavy ash fall," he said.
Officials at Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland said that volcanic ash could be dangerous for animals too, particularly those with respiratory problems. The hospital recommended keeping pets inside and skipping outdoor exercise if there's ash fall.
Oregon and Washington both have emergency management departments that are keeping an eye on the volcano, ready to step in if counties need extra help.
"We're basically just monitoring the situation," said Abby Kershaw, section director for Oregon's emergency management department. "The experts are telling us that this is nothing like 1980."
Penelope Cassidy, public information officer for Washington state's Emergency Management Division, said her agency also was monitoring the situation.
"This volcanic eruption doesn't look like it's going to be far reaching," she said.
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