Monday, December 26, 2005
What should you do if Augustine volcano erupts?
The main hazards from Augustine are a tsunami and an ash fall. While a tsunami would be more catastrophic, the greater concern — as in 1986 — is with an ash fall, Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter said.
The best advice for dealing with ash? Stay indoors and avoid stirring up the ash.
Oh, and get out the panty hose and dust masks.
As with any geologic hazard, Robert McGimsey, a U.S. Geological and Geophysical Survey volcanologist with AVO, said now is a good time to make emergency preparations.
“We’re just using this as another opportunity to remind people they need to be prepared 24-7,” said Painter.
Ash could fall anywhere the wind blows. When Augustine blew at 2 a.m. March 27, 1986, ash didn’t reach Homer until about noon. Ash clouds look like a big black cloud with bulbs hanging down, McGimsey said.
“They’re pretty dramatic, those big ash clouds coming over,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl.
Robl was a patrol officer when Augustine blew early in the morning. He said he went to the bluff to check out a report of a boat burning in Kachemak Bay — and saw Augustine erupting.
“The best I could describe it was lightning columns going out of it,” he said.
Ash particles are like ground glass and can be abrasive to lungs, machinery and electronics. Officials offered these suggestions for dealing with an ash fall:
¥ Stay inside.
Keep doors and windows closed.
¥ Don’t go out.
Driving stirs up ash on roads.
“Just stay at home until the stuff settles out,” Painter said.
¥ Protect lungs.
People with respiratory problems should be especially careful, but everybody should wear dust masks or respirators if they have to be outside.
¥ Remove contact lenses.
Ash can scratch contacts. If ash gets on glasses, don’t rub the ash off — wash glasses with clean water.
¥ Protect pets.
Keep pets inside. If pets go out, brush them before letting them inside so they don’t bring in ash.
¥ Protect machinery.
Air filters keep ash from getting into car engines, but filters clog up quickly, said mechanic Val McLay, owner of The Auto Clinic.
“The quickest down and dirty fix I’ve heard of is a pair of panty hose over the intake,” said Maynard Kauffman with Eayrs Plumbing and Heating.
In 1986, McLay said people did exactly that. Ash can be knocked off the panty hose.
McGimsey suggested also keeping ash out of car air intake vents. If ash gets in vents, when the fan is turned on, it can suck ash inside the car. Turning the fan to “recirculate” so it doesn’t bring in outside air is also a good idea.
Kauffman said forced air furnaces would need to have some sort of filter between the outside air and the combustion chamber — again, panty hose or something similar. For direct-vent heaters like Monitor stoves, Mark Vial of VBS Heating Products said filtering the small air intake can be trickier. Vial suggested contacting manufacturers for advice.
¥ Protect electronic equipment.
Ash sucked in through cooling fans can damage computers. If air is clean inside, it should be OK to use computers. John Simpson, a technician at TechConnect, suggested turning off and covering computers with plastic bags when not in use.
¥ Protect homes and boats.
As with heavy snowfalls, home and boat owners should remove ash from roofs and decks.
The city is prepared for an ash fall. Public works director Carey Meyer said the city has extra filters on hand for city vehicles. Painter and Robl said fire and police will use its older vehicles first, but will roll whatever equipment is necessary to respond.
Homer’s water supply is safe, Meyer said. Ash wasn’t a problem in prior eruptions. The treatment plants have filters.
“We’re prepared for an ash fall,” he said.
For more information on dealing with volcanoes, McGimsey recommended a U.S. Geological Survey Web site, www.volcanoes.usgs.gov/ash. For weather information, visit www.pafc.arh.noaa.gov/augustine.php.