Mt. Rainier Scare Prompts Alert

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My oldest son and family evacuated the area after the sirens went off about 10 PM last night. They live near Orting which is just below the mountain.

Nisqually River Scare Prompts Alert

August 14, 2001 By KOMO Staff & News Services

Email This Story PIERCE COUNTY - Park rangers and geologists hoped Wednesday to pinpoint the source of a gush of water from a Mount Rainier glacier that sent rocks and trees rushing into the Nisqually River.

No injuries or serious damage was reported from the "glacial outburst" Tuesday night, but it sent emergency officials scrambling to gauge the severity of the event at the 14,410-foot mountain. The fear was that a lahar, a potentially deadly flow of mud and debris, might be coming down the river.

Mount Rainier is an active volcano, and its glaciers feed rivers that run through some of the most populous regions of the state.

"Reports are still coming in, but we're lucky at this point," said Jody Woodcock, spokeswoman for Pierce County Emergency Management. "This isn't the big one we've been practicing for."

Surge Came Down

The surge of water, apparently from glacial melting, sent water and debris rushing into the Nisqually and its tributaries, and left some mud and rock on a park road, said Maria Gillett, spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park. Despite initial concerns, it had little effect downstream, where the Nisqually showed no indication that it would overflow its banks.

Nevertheless, the rising water scared campers at several locations within the park, which receives more than 1.2 million visitors a year. The road to Paradise, where the park's main visitor center and hotel are located, was closed briefly as a precaution, but all facilities were open Wednesday morning, Gillett said.

Some campers left, but no evacuations were ordered, she said.

"There's a fair amount of mud and rock on the road," she said. But "we are not considering this an emergency."

Park officials planned Wednesday to send a helicopter to the glaciers high on the mountain's southern flank to look for the source of the melting, she said.

Better Safe Than Sorry

People in nearby communities were asked to stay away from the river, just in case. Tuesday night, Gillett and several of her neighbors in Ashford, site of the park's headquarters just outside the park's southwest entrance, took survival supplies and left their homes.

"I grabbed my pack, grabbed a cell phone and a park radio, and went and grabbed an elderly neighbor who I wasn't sure would know what was going on," Gillett said. "We drove up what's basically a logging road and ran into several of my neighbors up there."

The rushing water apparently came from the Van Trump or Kautz glacier on the volcano's south side, officials said.

Officials have been particularly sensitive to potential eruptions of Mount Rainier following a recent computer simulation that showed the region isn't prepared for one. The simulation, done in May with the help of the federal government, showed that as many as 5,000 people could be killed in an eruption.

An electronic sensor on the mountain, designed to warn of impending eruptions or mud flows, was tripped Tuesday night, apparently by the rushing water and debris. It sounded an alarm at the Pierce County dispatch center, said Sheriff Paul Pastor.

Orting Police Chief Ron Emmons said no siren was sounded in the town, as might have happened if the flow had been into the Carbon or Puyallup rivers. Still, roads above Orting were closed.

"Everything here is fine," Emmons said Tuesday night. "Probably it was a pretty good drill, but we don't like those kinds of things, at night especially."

Common Event On The Big Mountain

Glacial outbursts are among the most common types of events a volcano like Mount Rainier can produce, said Bill Steele of the University of Washington seismology center in Seattle.

"It's a hot summer, a dry year," Steele said. "The water builds up, gets trapped under the glacier and then can burst forth suddenly, causing a flood down the channel which can be quite dangerous if you're near the river."

The rising water level was noticed at about 10 p.m.

Pastor noted the water surge occurred in "a very isolated part of the county -- a wilderness area."

Pierce County activated its emergency operations center and called out its search and rescue personnel and swift water rescue teams, sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said.

http://www.komotv.com/news/story.asp?ID=13329



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 15, 2001

Answers

Headline: At Mt. Rainier, an Alarm Is False, but the Reminder Is Real

Source: New York Times, 16 August 2001

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/16/national/16RAIN.html

SEATTLE, Aug. 15 Reporting for work at Pierce County's Emergency Management Center around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Jody Woodcock feared the worst.

An hour earlier, national park rangers hiking on Mount Rainier had called a dispatcher and 911, reporting loud rushing water and "rumbling sounds" on the mountain's south face. Campers farther down the mountain heard "rocks rumbling around and hitting bridges."

Mount Rainier, 14,410 feet, is just south of Seattle and Tacoma and is an active volcano.

"When it's dark like that and they hear rushing water and trees, the first thing they think is that it is a lahar," or mud avalanche, said Ms. Woodcock, a spokeswoman for the county's emergency management team.

A lahar, she explained, is a warning sign for a possible eruption, caused when heat from a volcano melts glaciers and sends floods of debris down mountainsides, as occurred during the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

After the reports on Tuesday, the center's Tacoma offices, 40 miles northwest of Mount Rainier, swelled to about 30 workers. But by 1 a.m. it was clear that the clamor was only over a debris flow, a much more common but still impressive act of nature that occurs when glacial "melt water" saturates debris basins until parts of earth break loose and career down the mountain carrying dirt and boulders.

While the explanation reassured emergency workers, it did not contain occasional hysteria in the region.

Ms. Woodcock said false television news reports had the county's lahar detection system sounding alarms in nearby Puyallup Valley. That frightened some residents, but others called county officials to say everything was quiet in the valley.

Recent warm weather and a small snowpack are thought to have exacerbated Tuesday's flow. Researchers from the United States Geological Survey flying over the mountain yesterday said the flow carved a 100- foot-deep gully in places.

Officials of Mount Rainier National Park expect the flow to continue in fits for at least several days. One trail is closed, but no injuries have been reported and all park roads are open.

Federal surveyors, working with the Cascade Volcano Observatory, believe the flow originated from the Kautz glacier. The flow of debris was limited to wilderness areas including the Van Trump Creek drainage and Nisqually River, which usually manage runoff from the Van Trump glacier.

[Martin, I hope your son is back home and OK. They can perhaps look at this as a "field exercise," a test of their evacuation plans... and if they didn't have adequate plans before, now's the time to make them.]

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), August 16, 2001.


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