Feds upgrade volcano alerts


POSTED: Saturday, April 11, 2009

WASHINGTON » Weeks after Mount Redoubt erupted in Alaska, the Interior Department is spending some of its first stimulus dollars to improve volcano monitoring.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said yesterday the department will use $15.2 million to modernize five volcano warning systems, including those in Alaska and Hawaii, in one of its first projects to be funded by the stimulus measure. It was part of $140 million in spending announced yesterday.

Hawaii Democratic U.S. Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye said yesterday that as home to Kilauea, Hawaii knows how critically important volcano monitoring is.

The senators note it was only 25 years ago that a Mauna Loa eruption ended after sending lava to within four miles of Hilo.

They say the funding is significant because Hawaii needs to know what its volcanoes are doing in order to prepare for eruptions, lava, vog, earthquakes and other disasters.

Such monitoring will allow vital eruption warnings for the public and airlines, as officials provided months before Mount Redoubt in Alaska blew in March, Salazar said. The Alaska Volcano Observatory first started issuing warnings in late January, Salazar said.

“;We know that we must warn the public of explosive eruptions. We need to alert aircraft of ash clouds and warn communities of ash falls and lava and mud flows,”; Salazar said in a conference call with reporters.

Salazar said the Alaska observatory's top priority is to avoid a repeat of what happened during Redoubt's eruption 19 years ago, when a Boeing 747 strayed into an ash cloud and nearly crashed.

Republicans targeted the volcano monitoring as an example of wasteful spending in the stimulus plan. In a February speech, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the rapid growth in federal spending should be monitored.