ANCHORAGE — A volcano erupted in Alaska's Aleutian Island chain on Saturday, trapping at least nine people with failing ash until a private boat was able to rescue them after the Coast Guard appealed for help.
The Okmok volcano began erupting at about 11:43 a.m., spewing ash more than 30,000 feet in the air, said geophysicist Steve McNutt. "You wouldn't want to be within 10 miles of this place, depending again which way the wind is going." Umnak is in Alaska's Aleutian chain, about 860 miles west of Anchorage.
Fort Glenn is "much right next door to the volcano," said Tanya Kyle, a tribal administrator in the village of Nikolski, about 20 miles from the volcanoe.
Six adults and three children were at Fort Glenn and reported falling ash and rock to the Coast Guard soon after the eruption, said spokesman Levi Read.
But the ash kept the Coast Guard from sending an aircraft to help. When the Coast Guard was unable to reestablish contact with Fort Glenn, it appealked for any boats in the area to rescue the nine.
The Coast Guard cutter Jarvis was diverted to the island, but it was about 800 miles away and would take 36 hours. That's when the Coast Guard appealed for help and the fishing boat Tara Gaila responded. The Associated Press reported that the boat picked up 10 people.
Two planned flights from Unalaska were canceled because of the eruption, said Jerry Lucas, a spokesman for PenAir, the primary airliner serving the area.
The volcano last erupted in 1997, McNutt said, with lava flow following the eruption for roughly two months.
With wind blowing from the northwest to southeast, the ash cloud would likely pass to the south of Dutch Harbor, he said.
In Dutch Harbor, residents noticed a gray, odorless ash falling by about 3:30 p.m. and a local building-supply store began rationing $2.75 face masks, said reporter Jim Paulin.