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Preparing for a Volcanic Eruption

What Can You Do to Prepare for a Volcano?

Volcanoes can erupt at any time. Even a volcano that has not erupted for many years can become active again and erupt. In most cases, scientists today can help us to know ahead of time when a volcano might erupt so that we can be ready for it. Many people are not aware that they can prepare for a volcanic eruption in some ways. Of course, you can’t stop the hot gases and lava that flow, but there are a lot of emergency preparedness steps you can take for a volcanic eruption. The dangers that it can cause are well known and they can be devastating.

Volcano Facts

What is a Volcano?

A volcano, simply put, is a mountain that opens inward. It has a pool of melted or molten rock below the surface. When pressure from below builds up the volcano will erupt. Eruption means that gas and ash and hot melted rock can spill out through the opening at the top of the volcano.

Just a few volcano facts are that eruptions can cause blasts of lava, flows of lava, hot ash flow and even what is called a lateral blast. They can cause mudslides, avalanches, floods and falling trees. Eruptions from volcanos have been known to knock down an entire forest or to bury towns. Volcanos of some kinds can cause a tsunami as well as falling rocks.

Volcanoes are formed by magma from the mantle of the earth working its way up to the surface of the earth. At the surface it will erupt. This cases ash deposits and laval flows. As it continues to erupt it can get larger and larger. If you are interested in learning more about how volcanoes work and how and why they erupt, the USGS, United States Geological Survey has a Volcano Page.

Where are Volcanoes?

Volcanoes can erupt nearly anywhere. There are several very famous volcanoes in areas where eruptions have taken place before. Some of these are:

  • Mount St. Helens, WA, USA
  • Avachinsky-Koryaksky, Kamchatka, Russia
  • Nevado de Colima, Jalisco and Colima, Mexico
  • Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy
  • Galeras, Nariño, Colombia
  • Mauna Loa, Hawaii, USA
  • Mount Merapi, Central Java, Indonesia
  • Mount Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Mount Rainier, Washington, USA
  • Sakurajima, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
  • Santa Maria/Santiaguito, Guatemala
  • Santorini, Cyclades, Greece
  • Taal Volcano, Luzon, Philippines
  • Teide, Canary Islands, Spain
  • Ulawun, New Britain, Papua New Guinea
  • Mount Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan
  • Vesuvius, Naples, Italy

These are not the only volcanoes. Some volcanoes are under the water as well as above, but these are the most famous and the ones which have erupted that have caused a great deal of damage.
There is no specific area which can’t have a volcano, but the areas in which volcanoes are known, such as Washington and Hawaii are the areas where people need to take the most care.

What Kind of Damage Can Volcanoes Cause?

Volcanoes can spit or spew very hot dangerous gas. They can also shoot rock and lava for many miles. Volcanic blasts have injured and killed many people in the area of volcanoes. In addition to injury or death, volcanic eruptions can result in floods, mudslides, can contaminate drinking water for many miles and can create massive power outages as well as cause respiratory problems after the eruption and even cause some very thick ash and smoke.

The chances of being injured or killed by a volcano are very low when we pay attention to the warnings that are issued and leave the area. Conversely, if we do not, the chances of injury or illness can be quite high.

How Do You Prepare for a Volcano?

Getting ready for a volcano is a lot like getting ready for any other kind of disaster. You will need to be monitoring the situation in your area to make sure that the volcano eruption does not become more powerful and that if you need to leave that you have plenty of time to do so.

One of the best ways to be prepared for a volcano, like many potential emergencies, is to have recommended items in an emergency bag that is ready to go at all times if you live in an area that may be prone to volcanoes. Your bag should be packed and ready to go the first time that you hear that a volcano may be erupting anywhere in the area near to you. Included in the bag should be the following items:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and water
  • Manual (nonelectric) can opener
  • Essential medicines
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Respiratory (breathing) protection
  • Eye protection (goggles)
  • Spare Jacket
  • Blanket or sheet for cover.
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Cell phone and chargers
  • Spare cash, debit or credit cards

These are all items that are going to be required if you need to eat, to drink and to help you to have a few of the things that you need if you are stranded away from home for a period of time.

Plan an evacuation route. Make sure that depending on where you live, you have at least two routes mapped out so that you can safely leave the area. Volcanic ash and lava can travel for many miles and may not take the route that you expect.

What to Do During a Volcanic Eruption

When a volcano is imminent, you should be listening to the weather or emergency radio at all times. Listen for warnings and for evacuation calls. Make sure that you take note of the route which the emergency personnel are recommending. In a volcanic eruption, a road covered in ash or lava is definitely the wrong place to be.

  • Listen for any warnings or sirens that may appear.
  • Fill all clean water containers and be sure that you have extra water. Even if the volcano is not going to touch your immediate area, water may become contaminated.
  • Fill your sinks and your bathtub with water to have extra water for washing.
  • If you are told to evacuate, don’t wait, do so immediately.
  • Take your pets with you when you go. Livestock should be safely penned inside a secure building.
  • If you do evacuate, try to turn off water, electricity and gas, and disconnect any appliances from the wall in order to prevent shock when power may be restored.
  • Do not return to your home until an all clear has been sounded by emergency management.
  • AFTER THE VOLCANO Danger has Passed.
  • Return to your home only when you are told to do so.
  • Do not drink the water until emergency personnel declare that it is safe. Volcanic ash may be around in the water which can render it unable to be used.

Ash from a volcano can be very dangerous. It can harm your breathing. To keep yourself safe while you are cleaning up or any time you are outside, you will want to use an air purifying respirator. If you do not have this kind of respirator, make sure that you are at the very least wearing a dust mask when you are outside until all trace of the volcanic ash has disappeared.
If there is ash inside your home, wear the respirator at all times until the area is completely cleaned.