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Budget cuts limit volcano monitoring

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Scientists monitoring Alaska's volcanoes have been forced to shut down stations that provide real-time tracking of eruptions and forgo repairs of seismic equipment amid ongoing federal budget cuts -- moves that could mean delays in getting vital information to airline pilots and emergency planners.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory can no longer monitor five volcanoes with real-time equipment to detect imminent eruptions. Such equipment is important in helping pilots receive up-to-the-minute warnings about spewing ash that can cause engine failures.

Alaska has 52 active volcanoes. Many of them are on the Aleutian Islands along international air routes between Europe, North America and Asia.

Monitors need to be operating all the time, not just during major eruptions, said Betty Bollert, an Alaska Airlines dispatcher. "I think the public gets kind of complacent when nothing exciting is happening . . . and think, 'Oh, why should we throw money at that?' " said Bollert, who was on duty in 1989 when the Redoubt Volcano blew 115 miles from Anchorage.

After that eruption, several aircraft experienced damage from ash -- including a Boeing 747-400 that lost all four engines after flying into an ash cloud. The plane dropped more than two miles in five minutes before the crew was able to restart the engines and land safely.

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