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Originally published Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Volcano erupts in Alaska, fishing boat rescues 10 people

A fishing vessel rescued 10 people after a volcano erupted, sending rocks and ash down on a cattle ranch on a remote island in the Aleutian...

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — A fishing vessel rescued 10 people after a volcano erupted, sending rocks and ash down on a cattle ranch on a remote island in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

The Tara Gaila picked up the people Saturday evening after receiving an urgent call from the Coast Guard. The fishing vessel brought them to Dutch Harbor about 65 miles away, where they were staying at a hotel on Sunday.

None of them reported being injured, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Levi Read.

"If it wasn't for the Tara Gaila, there is a good chance those 10 people would still be on Umnak Island," Read said.

When the 3,500-foot volcano erupted Saturday morning, the Coast Guard sent two cutters that were on routine patrols in the Bering Sea to the island, located in the western Aleutians about 860 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The Tara Gaila was closer and was able to get to the island, so the cutters were recalled. The Coast Guard also launched a helicopter but it had to land in Dutch Harbor because it was being damaged by the volcanic ash.

The Okmok Caldera, which consists of a 6-mile-wide circular crater about 1,600 feet deep, erupted with little warning Saturday morning, just hours after seismologists at the Alaska Volcano Center began detecting a series of small tremors.

The explosion flung a large ash plume into the sky.

The 10 people, including three children, were at Fort Glenn, a private cattle ranch six miles south of the volcano. The ranch residents had managed to call military police on Kodiak Island on a satellite phone before losing their connection.

The volcano erupted at 11:43 a.m. and reached peak activity about two hours later, said Cyrus Read, a geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, which has several seismic stations on the Okmok Caldera. The Okmok Caldera contains more than a dozen volcanic cones. Scientists weren't sure which cone exploded Saturday.

One of the observatory's seismic stations that was placed at the rim of the volcano likely was destroyed in the explosion, Read said. Several others stations were functioning Sunday.

"It continues at this time," Read said. "It is a pretty solid plume."

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Trace amounts of ash were being reported in Dutch Harbor on Saturday. There were no new reports of ash falling in the large fishing port.

Ash was expected to continue drifting south. The ash cloud was estimated at 45,000 feet on Sunday and posed a risk to aircraft.

The last time the volcano — formed about 2,000 years ago — erupted was in 1997, sending a fountain of lava and ash into the air, it was active for eight months, Read said. But he said there was no way of knowing how long the eruption would last this time.

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http://www.avo.alaska.edu

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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