The frightening scenes of lava from the Kilauea volcano flowing across residential areas of Hawaii look like something out of a movie.
But the danger from the eruption of Kilauea is not only very real for the people of Hawaii, its something many residents along the West Coast of the United States have to be aware of, as well.
There are more than 13 volcanoes along an 800-mile stretch from Mount Baker in Washington to Lassen Peak in California. Those volcanoes are part of 450 volcanoes that make up the so-called “Ring of Fire,” which is a horseshoe-shaped belt with Kilauea situated in the middle. The belt follows the coasts of South America, North America, eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Because of the increased activity of Kilauea — and potentially larger eruptions that could still be coming to Hawaii — there is concern among a growing number of West Coast residents about the events in Hawaii triggering eruptions in the U.S.
“There’s lots of anxiety out there,” Liz Westby, geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington, told the Associated Press. “They see destruction, and people get nervous.”
The Cascades Volcano Observatory monitors volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest and posts weekly status reports.
The good news for those who live near any of the western volcanoes is that all status reports on those sites currently register “normal.”
“All our mountains are considered active and, geologically speaking, things seem to happen in the Northwest about every 100 years,” said John Ufford, preparedness manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division.
If one of the West Coast volcanoes were to erupt, residents in those areas would not see the type of lava flows like those witnessed in Hawaii.
“Our volcanoes don’t have the plumbing system like the ones we find in Hawaii,” George Bergantz, a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, told KCPQ-TV in Seattle. “They (Cascade volcanoes) arise through a different set of geological processes and don’t produce lave flows that are this runny.”
The Cascade volcanoes can produce huge clouds of choking ash and send deadly mudslides into rivers and streams.
Two of the most potentially destructive West Coast volcanoes are Mount St. Helens, north of the Portland, Oregon metro area, and 14,000-foot Mount Rainier, which is visible from Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.
Experts believe Mount St. Helens is the most likely of the region’s volcanoes to erupt next, because it is the most active volcano in the Cascade Range.
But Mount Rainer, which hasn’t had a lava eruption in more than 2,000 years, is considered the most dangerous if it were to erupt because of the areas nearby.
An eruption on Mount Rainier could rapidly melt glaciers, triggering huge mudflows that could reach the densely populated areas in the valleys surrounding the mountain.
“Our concern is ice and snow melting rapidly on Mount Rainier,” said Chuck Morrison, a resident of Orting, Washington, a town of approximately 7,600 that is located about 20 miles west of Mount Rainier. “We need a quick way off the valley floor.”
Officials in Orting conduct evacuation drills each year in which children move from schools to higher ground so they know where to go to escape the flow.
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