Friday, September 14, 2007

Volcano eruption survivor

A Brunswick County man escaped a village about 30 miles south of an erupting volcano in Alaska on Friday. Joe Marshall, of Sunset Harbor, boarded a plane from the small village of King Cove as a bubbling mountain of lava puffed a cloud of ash nearby. He had landed safely in Cold Bay by 3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and was planning to fly to Anchorage to meet his wife.

“He said he had no idea how close he was to the volcano when taking off at King Cove. They flew over a hill and – whooah – there it was, percolating. And the pilot made a dash for Cold Bay, where he has safely landed,” Marshall’s wife, Roxye Marshall, wrote in an e-mail. Experts predict this eruption, which began Aug. 15, will follow the path of the last one in 1996, which consisted of several months of ash explosions, lava-fountaining and lava flow production.

Ash clouds rose as high as 30,000 feet but mostly stayed below 20,000, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. King Cove and other nearby inhabited communities are too far from the volcano to be affected by the lava. The observatory is expecting light ash fall to be the only ground effect.Marshall, who practices dentistry for the Alaskan Native Medical Center, was doing field work in King Cove, a village of about 800 people, when the volcano started exhibiting seismic activity.

So he made plans to get away from the threat of ash fall that can halt air traffic and cause mechanical equipment to fail. “It’s really amping up right now, so I’m really hoping we can get out of here before it blows,” he said by phone Thursday as he was making arrangements to leave. The couple – both members of the Brunswick County Search and Rescue Team – are in Alaska quite often.

When Joe is not in Anchorage, he travels around Alaska, doing dentistry in the field, like this time in King Cove. Roxye was at a ski resort in Girdwood, a small town outside Anchorage, certifying a dog for avalanche work. She said the steep mountains surrounding this town make it vulnerable to avalanches. Although he was eager to leave King Cove, this was not a new experience for Marshall, who formerly worked full time in Alaska.

“You’re used to it out here,” he said, noting he once before barely escaped a volcano eruption in a town of 75 people. He said the ash fall is so abrasive it can deteriorate car parts. He and his co-workers covered equipment in the clinic with plastic before fleeing King Cove. For more information about the volcano, visit www.avo.

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