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Monday, April 21, 2014

16 evacuated from Northern Islands

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife has evacuated 16 people—mostly its scientists—from the Northern Islands following the eruption of an active submarine volcano south of Sarigan Friday noon.

Press secretary Angel Demapan told Saipan Tribune yesterday that seven U.S. Fish & Wildlife personnel were picked up from Sarigan Sunday afternoon and brought to Saipan.

Five individuals from Alamagan and four from Pagan were removed to Saipan yesterday afternoon. It’s not clear how many of the nine are Northern Islands residents, according to Demapan.

He said they called off the evacuation operation for the nine in Alamagan and Pagan on Sunday afternoon because visibility had cleared up, giving the scientists time to make further observations.

According to the Emergency Management Office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife used a fixed wing aircraft and a helicopter to extract 16 personnel from Sarigan and Northern Islands.

EMO said the extraction continued yesterday.

EMO said the Alaska Volcanic Observatory and the National Weather Service Guam will continue to assist with their own assets to monitor the area.

The EMO’s Crisis Management Team stood down at 3:45pm Sunday.

EMO said consultations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, AVO, NWS and National Incident Management Organization is ongoing.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has declared a state of disaster emergency in the CNMI following the submarine volcano eruption south of Sarigan.

Fitial declared Sarigan unsafe for human habitation and restricted all travel to the island, with the exception of scientific expeditions.

According to EMO, continuing volcanic activity is on-going in the area south of Sarigan, based on seismic activity and visual observations, “presenting a continuing threat of adverse impact in the waters and air space south of Sarigan island.”

Sarigan, an island 175 kilometers (109 miles) north of Saipan, is a stratovolcano with no known historic eruptions. It was used as a copra plantation prior to World War II and is currently uninhabited.

According to the USGS, volcanic activity observed on Thursday, May 27, south of Sarigan Island has increased, and the Guam Weather Forecast Office reported that recent satellite images indicate that the affected area is about twice the size of Sarigan Island.

It quoted an observer from the EMO that overflew and photographed an elongated patch of discolored ocean water and possible light-colored floating debris about 6-7 miles south of Sarigan on Thursday. At that time, the area of discoloration and debris extended over about a mile. Successive satellite images indicate that this is a point-source that has dramatically expanded in breadth. The activity appears to be centered about 6-7 miles south of Sarigan, probably on the southern extension of the submarine ridge upon which Sarigan is constructed.

“Submarine eruptions are not uncommon in the Marianas Islands; mariners in the area should remain alert for floating debris and avoid areas of strongly discolored or disturbed water. Near-sea level eruptions can be dangerous producing ash laden explosions, ash and ballistic fallout, and water waves. AVO maintains no monitoring equipment on these submarine volcanoes and therefore warning of eruptive activity is not possible,” the USGS said.

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