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Volcano Rumblings Force Residents to Flee Aleutian Island

March 15, 1996

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Rattled residents began leaving the Aleutian island of Akutan as its volcano rumbled to life, setting off a series of small earthquakes that broke water pipes and cracked walls.

The quakes appeared to have slowed overnight, but people who remained behind kept a nervous eye on the cloud-shrouded mountain today. Authorities stopped short of evacuating the town, which stands just eight miles from the volcano.

Tremors occurring every two or three minutes Thursday indicated that the volcano could erupt at any time within the next few days with little or no warning, said Terry Keith, scientist-in-charge at the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Anchorage. It’s just as possible that the mountain could go back to sleep and nothing more will happen, she said.

The quakes had a preliminary magnitude of 3 or 4, and at least one jolt measured 4.7, she said. The strength and frequency of the quakes are an indication that thick, gooey lava is cracking the ground as it works its way up through the volcano, Keith said.

Fewer large tremors were felt overnight, the worst with a magnitude of 4.5, said Paul Whitmore, a geophysicist with the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer.

``But the activity wasn’t anywhere as frequent as it was Wednesday night, when the earthquakes were said to be occurring as often as a minute apart,″ he said.

Akutan, about 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, is one of the most active volcanoes in the Aleutians, with low-level eruptions every couple of years, Keith said. Low clouds have prevented residents from seeing if the volcano is venting ash or steam.

Thirty-eight people, including nine elders, flew 40 miles south to Dutch Harbor after a sleepless Wednesday night.

``It feels like a big truck hitting your house,″ said Akutan Mayor Joe Bereskin. ``We didn’t get much sleep. Every couple of minutes there were nice big tremors that kept everybody on their toes.″

Bereskin said the quakes were the worst since the volcano rumbled to life Sunday, causing minor damage including broken water pipes and cracked walls. There have been no reports of injuries.

In addition to the 100 permanent residents on the island, 500 seasonal cannery workers are now based there.

Michael Gibson, a commander for the state Department of Emergency Services, said a commercial fishing vessel docked at Akutan was available for a possible evacuation. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter also was available.

About half of the 22 students at Akutan school were among the people who left Thursday, but classes were to continue as scheduled, teacher Rod Rozier said.

``The adults that have stayed are looking to see a glow in the sky,″ he said. ``If you could have the event without the danger, of course that would be good. But the danger is real.″

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