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Alaska News

1953 Spurr eruption coated Anchorage in ash

  • Author: Tom Kizzia
  • Updated: May 23, 2018
  • Published June 28, 1992

Originally published on June 28, 1992

The last time Mount Spurr erupted, in 1953, wind was blowing from the west and Anchorage was showered with one-quarter inch of ash. The initial eruption was followed by a smaller blast, and then the volcano quieted down. By the following day, Anchorage was sweeping up and the show was over. But for one day, the show was dramatic.

Spurr’s 1953 eruption started at 5 a.m. on a sunny July day. By noon the ash cloud had plunged Anchorage into complete darkness and streetlights were shining. The heaviest ash cloud passed over Turnagain Arm, just south of the city.

Airline flights were canceled and the Air Force moved planes away from Elmendorf. Only one injury was reported: A woman whose vision was obscured by falling ash stepped in front of a garbage truck and was taken to Providence Hospital with a leg injury.

At the village of Tyonek, some 40 miles from Spurr, residents said the eruption sounded like thunder. As much as six inches of ash fell on the village.

Landslides triggered by the eruption dammed the Chakachatna River south of Spurr, and the dam later unleashed a flood. But no flood damage was reported.

Spurr’s eruption was a surprise. Spurr had never erupted in recorded history before the ice-filled crater on the mountain’s Crater Peak blew that summer. Airplane pilots had reported new plumes of steam from Crater Peak two months earlier, and a pair of university geologists had made a glacier landing to inspect the peak. But the geologists had said no eruption was expected.

Scientists did not use seimic registers to monitor volcanos in the 1950s. Seimic monitors were first placed on Spurr in 1981.

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