Regional Flights Canceled Due to Volcanic Eruptions

Ash and rain accumulate on a floatplane in Nelson Lagoon. (Courtesy of Merle Brandell)
Ash and rain accumulate on a floatplane in Nelson Lagoon. (Courtesy of Merle Brandell)

Pavlof Volcano isn’t showing signs of slowing down. It erupted all through the weekend, though not at levels that disturb international air traffic. But as KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal reports, the volcano’s done enough to stop regional air service to Western Alaska.

Bryan Carricaburu oversees operations at PenAir. He says on Monday morning, the airline grounded flights to:

Carricaburu: “Dutch, King Salmon, Dillingham, and the Pribilofs.”

There’s also Sand Point, which hasn’t had air service since Thursday. Overall, PenAir has completely shut down its Alaska operations. A representative for Grant Aviation says cancellations are also possible for their service to King Salmon.

The problem is that the volcano’s ash cloud is being blown into the flight path between Anchorage and southwest Alaska. It’s not a threat to navigation, but as Carricaburu from PenAir says:

Carricaburu: “Well, it’s very damaging to the engines if you ingest ash.”

Planes won’t fly again until the low-pressure system over the region lifts, and the ash dissipates.

Down on the ground, the Aleutian fishing town of Sand Point has been getting the brunt of the ash fall for the past few days.

The wind shifted Sunday, giving Sand Point a break. But according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Pavlof hasn’t let up at all — it’s still shooting large jets of ash and steam.

So the only difference is that now, the more northern villages of Nelson Lagoon and Port Moller are in the line of fire instead.

Merle Brandell lives in Nelson Lagoon. He says ash is falling there, mixed in with rain.

Brandell: “I see it in the bottom of the window sill outside there, it’s black. It’s a black ash. And it’s real sticky.”

Brandell says most people in Nelson Lagoon are trying to stay inside to avoid contact. They’ve stocked up on food and fuel, along with water.

That last part has been a bit tricky. Brandell operates the village’s water treatment plant, and he says he’s stopped pumping fresh water into the storage tanks since the eruption started to protect the supply.

For now, Nelson Lagoon is getting by on its reserves.

Brandell: “Hopefully, you know, within a week or two weeks or a month or whatever, we can top the tanks back off comfortably without putting any ash in our holding tanks.”

If they’re careful, Brandell says Nelson Lagoon should have enough water to last through another two months of volcanic eruptions. By that time, though, he says he hopes life will have gotten back to normal.

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