Prologue 1

Mount Rainier Explodes!

Massive Eruption Devastates Seattle Area;

Officials Looking for Answers

Seattle, May 19, 2010 (AP)

Three months after rumbling back to life and exactly thirty years after the last major eruption in the lower 48 states, Mount Rainier exploded yesterday in a terrifying shower of ash, mud, and lava that took tens of thousands of lives and caused property damage initially estimated at more than 100 billion dollars. The unexpected magnitude of the eruption, which caught civil officials totally unaware, appears to have devastated the economy of a major Pacific gateway, setting the stage for a global financial crisis on a scale similar to that caused by the great Los Angeles earthquakes of 2003.

Yesterday’s destruction was concentrated in three areas. The most immediate and deadly impact was felt in the southeastern suburbs of Seattle, where a searing blast of fine ash and gas flattened houses, factories, and bridges, and killed an estimated 13,000 people. Within an hour, mudflows surged down the volcano’s western valleys, burying towns, highways, and railroads, and clogging the southern third of Puget Sound with logs and other debris. Throughout the day, the hills east of Kent were blanketed with up to 10 inches of rain-soaked ash, halting nearly all transportation and collapsing the roofs of thousands of homes and other buildings.

The devastation was not confined to the Puget Sound area. A 797 aircraft, en route from New York to Portland, crashed near Yakima when its engines shut down after passing through the ash cloud. All 650 people on board are presumed dead. The eruption’s most concentrated economic effects appeared to be at aviation facilities in Renton, where wet ash caved in the roof of the main aircraft assembly plant, destroying 12 nearly completed supersonic transports valued at more than $3 billion each.

Also hard hit was the country’s largest database server farm near Enumclaw, run by an industry-wide information technology consortium. A spokesperson said that backup systems should minimize the impact on



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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program Prologue 1 Mount Rainier Explodes! Massive Eruption Devastates Seattle Area; Officials Looking for Answers Seattle, May 19, 2010 (AP) Three months after rumbling back to life and exactly thirty years after the last major eruption in the lower 48 states, Mount Rainier exploded yesterday in a terrifying shower of ash, mud, and lava that took tens of thousands of lives and caused property damage initially estimated at more than 100 billion dollars. The unexpected magnitude of the eruption, which caught civil officials totally unaware, appears to have devastated the economy of a major Pacific gateway, setting the stage for a global financial crisis on a scale similar to that caused by the great Los Angeles earthquakes of 2003. Yesterday’s destruction was concentrated in three areas. The most immediate and deadly impact was felt in the southeastern suburbs of Seattle, where a searing blast of fine ash and gas flattened houses, factories, and bridges, and killed an estimated 13,000 people. Within an hour, mudflows surged down the volcano’s western valleys, burying towns, highways, and railroads, and clogging the southern third of Puget Sound with logs and other debris. Throughout the day, the hills east of Kent were blanketed with up to 10 inches of rain-soaked ash, halting nearly all transportation and collapsing the roofs of thousands of homes and other buildings. The devastation was not confined to the Puget Sound area. A 797 aircraft, en route from New York to Portland, crashed near Yakima when its engines shut down after passing through the ash cloud. All 650 people on board are presumed dead. The eruption’s most concentrated economic effects appeared to be at aviation facilities in Renton, where wet ash caved in the roof of the main aircraft assembly plant, destroying 12 nearly completed supersonic transports valued at more than $3 billion each. Also hard hit was the country’s largest database server farm near Enumclaw, run by an industry-wide information technology consortium. A spokesperson said that backup systems should minimize the impact on

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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program global commerce, but investors’ skepticism caused the stock price of several participating companies in the consortium to drop 40 percent overnight. Ironically, it was the inability of several Silcon Valley companies to respond quickly to the San Jose earthquake in 2007 that led to the relocation of these facilities to the Pacific Northwest in 2008. Civil officials throughout the region were scrambling this morning to find scientists who could make sense of the disaster. Thirty years ago, the Volcano Hazards Program (VHP) of the U.S. Geological Survey provided official warnings that minimized loss of life from a similar eruption at Mount St. Helens. In 1991 the VHP and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology forecast a massive eruption of Mount Pinatubo, saving tens of thousands of Filipino lives and hundreds of millions of dollars of military hardware at two nearby U.S. military bases. However, as part of the continued downsizing of the federal government in the early 2000s, the VHP changed from a scientific organization focused on research and prediction to a technical organization whose main tasks were printing maps and enforcing federal regulations. The Los Angeles disaster further shifted public attention and resources toward earthquake mitigation, leading to the complete shutdown of the VHP in 2007. Contacted this morning at his home in Hilo, Hawaii, the retired former head of the USGS’s Hawaiian and Cascades Volcano Observatories, sounded both angry and frustrated. “This is a human disaster that should have been avoided. Twenty years ago we had monitoring systems in place that could have tracked the movement of magma into the volcano, the weakening of the edifice’s north side, the advance of mudflows toward Tacoma, and the paths of ash clouds. New techniques and sensors developed at universities in the United States, Japan, and Europe over the past decade could have further improved our predictive abilities, if we had people in place that knew how to use them. Instead we were lulled into a deadly complacency by leaders looking to save money and by Cascade volcanoes that typically awaken only once every century or two. Without a well-funded agency charged with coordinating volcano research and monitoring, this disaster is bound to be repeated.”

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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program Figure P.1 Location map showing area affected by yesterday’s eruption.

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