Their Mount Rainier erupted, now Colombians sharing lessons

Are we prepared if Mount St. Helens erupts again?
Are we prepared if Mount St. Helens erupts again? AP file, 1980

A contingent from Colombia is visiting Pierce County this week to discuss how to best handle the possibility of Mount Rainier or Mount St. Helens erupting.

The group of scientists, emergency managers and first responders have checked out both Washington volcanoes and will hold a community meeting in Orting Thursday night (May 4).

Both countries have experienced deadly volcano eruptions in the past.

Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, killing 57 people and destroying hundreds of homes.

In the Andes Mountains of Colombia, Nevado del Ruiz erupted in 1985 and caused lahars that killed more than 23,000 people, injured more than 5,000 and destroyed 5,000 homes.

Nevado del Ruiz is an ice-clad volcano similar to Mount Rainier, which the U.S. Geological Survey dubbed one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because volcanic mudflows would bury numerous communities in the foothills.

The experts are focusing on emergency preparedness, sharing what they’ve learned from their respective disasters and how to minimize risk for those living near volcanoes, according to KIRO.

Pierce County officials have been working on expanding the warning system near Mount Rainier to quicker notify residents to evacuate if the volcano ever erupts.

The weeklong visit comes during Volcano Preparedness Month and follows a trip to Colombia last month by 10 U.S. officials.

The exchange is sponsored by the USGS and the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

They formed the Vancouver-based Volcano Disaster Assistance Program after Nevado del Ruiz erupted. The group has responded to 30 volcano crises, strengthened response capacity in 12 countries and provided assistance with hundreds of volcanic events, according to its website.

The community meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday ay Orting High School’s Performing Arts Center, 320 Washington Ave. N.

There will be volcano-related exhibits and presentations by both Colombian and Pierce County officials.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653