Russian volcano losing steam after spectacular weekend display

October 04, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The eruption of the remote Klyuchevsky Sopka volcano in Russia's Far East is starting to subside now, but at its height it was a stupendous display of sheer, raw power.

Over the weekend, the 15,584-foot volcano threw lava fountains as high as three miles above the crater rim and ash nearly 13 miles into the atmosphere, geologists said.

"That's spectacular," said Tom Miller, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. In a telephone interview, Dr. Miller said that he had been keeping in close touch with Russian geologists near the scene.

Jack Lockwood, a geologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said the eruption, which began Friday night, compares with the 1980 Mount St. Helens blast in Oregon.

Klyuchevsky, in the middle of the Kamchatka Peninsula, which separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific, is one of the largest land volcanoes in the world. It erupts fairly often, but what's going on right now is its biggest eruption since 1945, scientists said.

Vladimir Kiryanov, of the Institute of Volcanic Geology and Geochemistry, based in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the volcano had subsided substantially since Saturday night. By yesterday evening, the lava fountains were only about a half-mile high, he said.

Deep earthquakes are starting to shake the mountain. Dr. Kiryanov said these are probably a harbinger of more big blasts to come -- "flank eruptions" -- as occurred in 1945.

Klyuchevsky is in an almost uninhabited part of Russia, although a military settlement called Klyuchi lies about 25 miles away. There were no reports of any casualties.

Kamchatka lies under the main air route between North America and East Asia, and 135-knot winds blowing at an altitude of 39,000 feet were spreading ash and smoke hundreds of miles across the western Pacific.

As many as 10,000 people a day fly across the North Pacific. Dr. Miller said that close cooperation between Russian and American scientists had ensured that aviation officials received prompt notice of the eruption. Flights were delayed and rerouted, he said, but there were no serious incidents.

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