The Icelandic Red Cross is sheltering more than 200 people after the eruption of the ice-covered volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. About 700 people were evacuated from the area. The majority of those evacuated are staying with friends and relatives.
Meanwhile, travelers all over Europe are having difficulty getting to their destinations as flights are grounded due to the huge ash cloud hovering overhead.
The latest eruption in Iceland caused large parts of a glacier to melt which has led to significant flash floods. Iceland's Red Cross is currently assessing whether everyone in the disaster area still has enough food.
Here in the United States, there are 169 volcanoes, 18 of which are designated as “Very High Threat Volcanoes” by the U.S. Geological Survey. These volcanoes have devastated large areas with volcanic blasts, invaded their surroundings with lava flows, produced large mudflows that have swept over hundreds of square miles, emitted noxious gases that have caused lung ailments and produced ash clouds that have brought down passenger jets and blanketed thousands of square miles.
So what should you do if you live close to a volcano in this country? The American Red Cross has steps you can take to be prepared for a volcanic eruption.
When a volcano erupts, heavy ashfall may reduce sunlight, causing a sudden demand and possible brownouts of electrical power. Ash can clog watercourses, sewage plants, and various kinds of machinery. A one-inch layer of ash weighs ten pounds per square foot, and fine ash is extremely slippery, hampering both driving and walking. Ash can also damage the lungs of small infants, the very old and infirm, or those already suffering from respiratory illnesses.
What to Do During a Volcanic Eruption
Be prepared for the hazards that can accompany volcanic eruptions, including:
- Mudflows and flash floods
- Landslides and rock falls
- Ashfall and acid rain
Follow any evacuation orders issued by authorities. Although it may seem safe to stay at home and wait out an eruption, doing so could be very dangerous Avoid areas downwind and river valleys downstream of the volcano. Debris and ash will be carried by wind and gravity. Stay in areas where you will not be further exposed to volcanic eruption hazards.
If caught indoors, stay inside and:
- Close all windows, doors, and dampers to keep volcanic ash from entering.
- Put all machinery inside a garage or barn to protect it from volcanic ash. If buildings are not available, cover machinery with large tarps.
- Bring animals and livestock into closed shelters to protect them from breathing volcanic ash.
If trapped outdoors:
- Seek shelter indoors.
- If caught in a rock fall, roll into a ball to protect your head and neck. This will provide the best protection for your body. Your head and neck are more easily injured than other parts of your body.
- If caught near a stream, be aware of mudflows, especially if you hear the roar of an approaching mudflow. Mudflows often accompany volcanic eruptions. Move quickly out of the path.
- Stay out of an area defined as a "restricted zone" by government officials. Effects of a volcanic eruption can be experienced many miles from a volcano. Mudflows and flash flooding, wild fires, and even deadly hot ash flow can reach you even if you cannot see the volcano during an eruption.
- Avoid river valleys and low-lying areas. Trying to watch an erupting volcano up close is a deadly idea.
- Listen to a portable, battery-operated radio or turn on the television for updated emergency information and instructions. If the electricity is out, a battery-operated radio may be your main source of information.
Volcanic ash is actually fine, glassy fragments and particles that can cause severe injury to breathing passages, eyes, and open wounds, and irritation to skin.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use goggles to protect your eyes.
- Wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses.
- Use a dust mask or hold a damp cloth over your face to help breathing.
- Keep car or truck engines off.
What to Do After a Volcanic Eruption
- Help a neighbor who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.
- If possible, stay away from volcanic ashfall areas. The fine, glassy particles of volcanic ash can increase the health risk to children and people with existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema. Stay indoors, wear face masks designed to protect against lung damage from small particles, use eyeglasses instead of contacts, and protective goggles to protect eyes.
- Clear roofs of ashfall. Ashfall is very heavy and can cause buildings to collapse, especially if made wet by rainfall. Exercise great caution when working on a roof.
- Avoid driving in heavy ashfall. Driving will stir up volcanic ash that can clog engines and stall vehicles. Moving parts can be damaged from abrasion, including bearings, brakes, and transmissions.
- If you have a respiratory ailment, avoid contact with any amount of ash. Stay indoors until local health officials advise it is safe to go outside. Volcanic ash can cause great damage to breathing passages and the respiratory system.