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Show's not over just yet: Redoubt alert level downgraded, but activity continues

Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't get too comfortable.

Although Mount Redoubt was downgraded to aviation color code "orange" on Wednesday afternoon, scientists at the Alaska Volcano Center said it is no reason to think the volcano is done with its explosive antics.

"We can even be in some sort of eruption at orange," said Stephanie Prejean, a seismologist with the AVO.

"We reserve red for periods when we expect to have eruptions that could create high altitude plumes. We like to have somewhere to go if activity starts to increase," she said, explaining the observatory's decision to downgrade the volcano's status.

Indeed, Redoubt had two minor explosions on Tuesday, one at 5:12 a.m. and another at 10:17 a.m.

Only the early morning explosion produced any ash, which was not believed to have impacted more than a small area.

"These could have been minor dome failures or they could have been a piece of dome falling off and sending ash and steam into the atmosphere," Prejean said.

Scientists don't believe they were related to the movement of magma through the volcano.

Prejean said scientists were unsure whether a new dome was building at the mountain's summit.

"We haven't actually seen into crater," Prejean said.

Poor weather has kept AVO crews doing overflights of the volcano from getting a clear view.

She did say that seismic recordings on Monday and Tuesday indicated there was dome building activity going on, though nothing of that nature was noted on Wednesday.

The poor visibility has also made it hard for scientists to see how much glacial melt has occurred on the Drift Glacier as a result of Sunday and Monday's eruptions.

All the same, Prejean said another large eruption would be likely to cause mudflows down the Drift River Valley.

"These glaciers can hang in there. They don't go away very quickly and I'm sure there's more sources of water up there," she said.

Situated at the mouth of the Drift River is the Drift River Terminal, an oil storage facility that withstood a severe lashing after the first series of eruptions flushed a large volume of water, ice, mud and debris down the valley.

The just more than 6 million gallons of Cook Inlet crude being stored in two of the seven tanks there remain a concern should a future event leave the facility awash and cause a spill.

Cook Inlet Pipe Line Co. operates the facility.

Prejean said that she and her colleagues hope the volcano will give a few hours notice in the form of increased levels of earthquake activity if it's going erupts again but there's no guarantee.

"Activity could still increase very rapidly," she said, warning that a future eruption could occur with little or no warning.

As such, area residents should remain vigilant.

Scott Walden, coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, said he's been very impressed with the public's reactions to the volcano, saying, "I believe the public was prepared. They have taken the appropriate actions, they're not worried, they're not panicked, they're making sure they can take care of themselves for a few days."

Walden said that while his office has been busy since Redoubt first started erupting, the OEM has not been too inundated with a phone calls.

A Monday morning power outage, though unrelated to the eruption, did cause a short burst of call-ins, but Walden said he and his staff drew in resources from other borough offices to help answer the concerns of worried callers.

Walden said he's been pleased with the borough's response to the situation thus far.

"So far so good. We've been contacted immediately whenever an eruption occurs. We've been involved with teleconferences with AVO, the Coast Guard, the Office of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service, which helps us work with the borough entities to give them the most current information on what to expect for the next six to 12 hours," Walden said.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com



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