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Alaska Volcano Stirs After 12 Quiet Years

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The last time Mount Spurr erupted, it spewed a plume 50,000 feet in the air, driving Anchorage residents indoors, shutting down airports and setting ash adrift as far away as Greenland.

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Twelve years later, the volcano is again restless. Fifteen to 25 small earthquakes a day have been rumbling beneath Mount Spurr for the past month. Last week, the Alaska Volcano Observatory raised its level of concern from green (dormant) to yellow (restless).

On Tuesday, scientists found a giant hole, 165 feet in diameter and 82 feet deep, in Mount Spurr's ice cap that may have been formed by the heat under the surface of the volcano. Such a hole has not been seen on the mountain in memory, said John Power, a seismologist with the observatory.

But the volcanic activity is different from what preceded the three eruptions in 1992 and scientists say there is no imminent threat of an eruption.

"It is unusual, that is why we raised the color of the level of concern," Power said Wednesday. "The most likely scenario is that this is going to die off with no eruptive activity."

But, he added, the possibility of an eruption cannot be ruled out.

In 1992, earthquake swarms under the 11,100-foot Mount Spurr and nearby Crater Peak led to eruptions in June, August and September of that year. Before then, the volcano had been dormant since 1953.

The eruption in August lasted four hours and was the worst to hit Anchorage, 80 miles to the east across Cook Inlet. The ash cloud drove people with respiratory problems indoors and closed the Anchorage airport for 20 hours. The region's other air fields

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