Mount Redoubt's Eruptions Spew Ash, Slow Alaskan Life

04/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

EAGLE RIVER, Alaska — Alaska's Mount Redoubt continued its volcanic explosions Friday, sending ash clouds as high as 50,000 feet above sea level and prompting drivers to head to the auto parts store for new air filters.

The National Weather Service said most of the ash was expected to fall to the north, but trace amounts of ash from eruptions on two Friday and smaller ones overnight could fall on Anchorage itself.

Since the series of eruptions began Sunday night, the volcano has had several bursts. One on Thursday sent ash 65,000 feet high. The last time the volcano had erupted was during a four-month period in late 1989 and early 1990.

The volcano exploded two more times later Friday, sending ash clouds 40,000 and 51,000 feet high.

Two mudflows produced by the volcano Friday were moving down a slough and tributary toward the Drift River Terminal, where 6.2 million gallons of oil is stored, said Chris Waythomas, a geologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

A concrete-reinforced dike is holding the mud back and protecting the terminal's oil storage tanks from damage.

The Coast Guard said the plan was to keep the oil in the tanks instead of draining it.

"The oil is safe where it is at right now," said Coast Guard Cmdr. Joseph Losciuto.

Closer to Anchorage, the concern Friday was ash, a fear that proved mostly unfounded. There were no immediate reports of ash falling in the city.

Airborne volcanic ash, even in relatively small amounts, can damage airplane and automobile engines. Because of the eruptions, Alaska Airlines, the state's largest carrier, said there were limited flights in and out of Anchorage.

Cissy Matson, manager for the NAPA Auto Parts store in suburban Eagle River, said dozens of people had come in Thursday asking about air filters and it looked like it would be another busy day Friday.

Early Friday morning, Matson was outside the store giving Becki Ezzell a quick lesson on where to put the new air filter she was buying for her 20-year-old daughter's car.

"I know that ash chokes off the air to the engine and it just stops. That would be very scary for her," Ezzell said.

Ezzell had another worry, too: The eruption had stranded her husband at the Minneapolis airport. "They were just getting on the plane and it blew," Ezzell said. "He thought he was on his way home."

Still, Ezzell, who has lived in Alaska since 1969, said she's seen far worse when it comes to volcanoes exploding and spewing ash.

"I'm not going to make a big to-do about a little ash," she said.