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Alaska's Mt. Redoubt volcano erupts with five major explosions; ash cloud ascends 50,000 feet

March 23, 2009 |  6:53 am

Mt. Redoubt's north flank, as photographed from the south.

*UPDATE: Includes new comment from Skwentna resident regarding ash fall.

**UPDATE: Travelers asked to check flight status as some flights have been canceled.

Alaska's Mt. Redoubt Volcano, which had been in a tempestuous mood for two months, erupted Sunday night at 10:38 p.m., sending an ash cloud 50,000 feet above sea level and prompting several flight cancelations.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory recorded four more large explosions during the night. Tina Neal, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said that "so far the major population centers in south-central Alaska have been spared any kind of dusting of ash."

The enormous plume was drifting to the north over an expansive wilderness parcel and so far only the small town of Skwentna, 100 miles north of Redoubt, had reported experiencing ash fall, mixed with snow.

In an interview, Eric Johnson, who runs Northwoods Lodge in Skwentna, said he did not hear the eruptions. "I did not know it erupted till daylight when I could see the funny-looking color on the snow," he said. Johnson, whose lodge specializes in snowmobiling in the winter and fishing in late spring and summer, said he's canceling reservations for the next couple of weeks because the coarse ash can damage snowmobiles.

Alaska Airlines was forced to cancel at least 19 flights and is asking travelers to check their flight status on its website.

Neal said the duration of eruptions varied from 10 to 20 minutes. Redoubt is located 110 miles southwest of Anchorage, due west of the Kenai Peninsula across the Cook Inlet.

Scientists will perform a fly-over today and attempt to take photographs.

The volcano last erupted in 1989-90, periodically over a period of six months, and scientists anticipate another lengthy episode.

Updates and fresh photos will be posted here as more information becomes available. Good luck to those living nearby. You might wish to study the AVO's ashfall preparedness link.

--Pete Thomas and Kelly Burgess

Photo: Mt. Redoubt's north flank, as photographed from the south last week, before the full eruption. Credit: Heather Bleick for Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey. Photo below shows ascending ash cloud during an eruption in April, 1990. Credit: J. Warren/AVO/USGS.