It's not the lava, but the mud that leads fears
Roland Along - Mitchell Roland
On any given night these days, the Kilauea volcano eruption in Hawaii is dominating the news.
Video of the hot lava from the Kilauea volcano oozing over streets and destroying everything in its path can cause people in the Northwest to think about what would happen if that were to occur here.
This region has many active volcanos, and we have seen the destruction they can cause when they erupt. Mount St. Helens erupted about 40 years ago and killed 57 people while causing more then $1 billion in damage.
All of this can make people wonder if we are prepared for this type of event, and what we have learned that would help us if it were to happen in the future.
While the region does have active volcanos, Highline professor Carla Whittington said that we do not face the same dangers that Hawaii is currently facing.
The geology professor explained that the volcanos in Hawaii produce a different type of lava than the ones in our region.
If an eruption were to happen, the Seattle area would face a different set of dangers.
While the volcanos in Hawaii are spewing lava, the danger from an eruption in our region would be from mudflows.
Before St. Helens erupted, scientists did not understand these differences. When the volcano started showing early signs of eruption, scientists traveled over to Hawaii to try and learn about what would happen in the event of an eruption.
But, they still didn't know about the uniqueness of the volcanos in our region.
"No one really understood there could be a sideways blast," Whittington said.
Whittington said while places such as the town of Orting at the base of Mt. Rainier that hold drills and practice what to do are prepared for an eruption, overall the Seattle area is not prepared.
"My personal belief is no," she said.
Whittington said that a lot of people who take her classes aren't even aware that we have active volcanos around us.
"I still have students that are surprised that Mt. St. Helens is an active volcano," she said.
When they find out that it is, she said that a lot of them assume incorrectly that they are in extreme danger. Whittington said that most of her students don't live in river valleys or aren't close enough to really be at risk.
Whittington explained that right after the eruption "people were still very aware" and knowledgeable about the dangers of volcanos. But as we have moved further and further away from it "there was a decline in knowledge."
Another reason for the lack of knowledge is a change in how people get their news, Whittington said. She said that people simply aren't seeing information about volcanos or their danger.
"If you are not looking for [information] it is easy to miss," she said.
In the event one of one of the volcanos in our region erupts, a landslide would kill people if they were close enough to the mountain, Whittington said. But most people wouldn't be close enough to face this danger.
In the last eruption, most people who died were out the "red zone." These people died from things such as the ash that was in the air or the mudflows that traveled down rivers.
It is impossible to know exactly when of the local volcanos will erupt, and Whittington said that Mt. Rainier has been "unusually quiet recently."
"They can erupt at any time," she said.
But people can sleep easy knowing that an eruption wouldn't happen without some warning signs occurring. Scientists monitor things such as earthquakes and movement of lava inside the volcano to try and understand the volcanos and their activities.