Volcanic Ashfall Survival Guide: How to Stay Safe

Volcanic eruptions are natural phenomena that can have devastating effects on communities. One of the most hazardous consequences of a volcanic eruption is ashfall. Volcanic ash, composed of tiny particles of rock, mineral, and volcanic glass, can spread over large areas, affecting air quality, water sources, infrastructure, and human health. This survival guide provides essential tips on how to stay safe during and after a volcanic ashfall.

The recent eruption of Mt. Kanlaon and the most recent Taal Volcano humble spewing high levels of volcanic smog tell us about nature and its powerful destructive force. If you live near an active volcano or are in an area experiencing ashfall, we’ll explore essential tips and precautions in this guide to take before, during, and after an ashfall.

Understanding Volcanic Ashfall

Volcanic ashfall occurs when volcanic ash is ejected into the atmosphere during an eruption and falls back to the ground. The severity of ashfall can vary depending on the eruption’s intensity, wind direction, and distance from the volcano. Ashfall can last a few minutes to several days, depending on the eruption and weather conditions.

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Health Hazards Associated with Ashfall

Volcanic ash poses several health risks, particularly to the respiratory system. Here are the primary health hazards associated with ashfall:

  1. Respiratory Problems: Inhaling volcanic ash can cause various respiratory issues, including coughing, throat irritation, and difficulty breathing. People with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at higher risk of severe complications.
  2. Eye Irritation: Fine ash particles can cause eye discomfort, redness, itching, and tearing. In severe cases, prolonged exposure to ash can lead to conjunctivitis or corneal abrasions.
  3. Skin Irritation: Direct contact with volcanic ash can cause skin irritation, particularly for individuals with sensitive skin. The abrasive nature of ash can lead to itching, rashes, and minor abrasions.
  4. Toxic Gases: Volcanic ash can carry toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide, which can aggravate respiratory issues and cause other health problems.
  5. Water Contamination: Ashfall can contaminate water sources, making it unsafe for drinking and leading to gastrointestinal illnesses if consumed.
The ashfall from the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption.
The ashfall from the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption.
Volcanic ashfall in the aftermath of Taal Volcano's explosive eruption.
Volcanic ashfall in the aftermath of Taal Volcano’s explosive eruption.
A large swath of ashes covers the lake (lahar).
A large swath of ashes covers the lake (lahar).

What to Do Before An Ash Fall

  • Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated with information from local authorities and volcanic monitoring agencies. They will provide alerts and advisories regarding potential volcanic activity and ashfall predictions.
  • Prepare an Emergency Kit: Stockpile essentials like N95 masks, goggles, non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, dust masks, and any necessary medications. Store the kit in a readily accessible location.
  • Develop a Family Communication Plan: Establish a meeting place and communication strategies if family members are separated during an eruption.
  • Prepare Your Home: Seal doors and windows with duct tape and plastic sheeting. Have plastic sheeting on hand to cover electronics and furniture.
  • Learn the Warning Signs: Familiarize yourself with the volcano’s typical warning signs, such as tremors, steam plumes, or changes in gas emissions.

What to Do During an Ash Fall

To protect yourself and your loved ones during a volcanic ashfall, follow these safety tips:

  • Stay Indoors: Seek shelter in a sturdy building and close all windows, doors, and vents to prevent ash from entering your home. Use damp towels or cloths to seal any gaps where ash may infiltrate. If you’re caught outdoors, seek refuge in a car or enclosed space.
  • Protect Yourself: Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, goggles, and a dust mask to minimize exposure to airborne ash particles. Avoid outdoor activities and unnecessary travel until the ashfall subsides.
  • Monitor Air Quality: Keep track of air quality reports provided by local authorities. Avoid outdoor activities if air quality levels are deemed unsafe due to high concentrations of ash particles.
  • Avoid Driving: Ash can reduce visibility and make roads slippery. If you must drive, do so slowly and use headlights.
  • Clean Ash Safely: If ash accumulates on your property, use a damp cloth or mop to avoid stirring up dust. Wear protective gear while cleaning and dispose of ash in sealed plastic bags.
  • Protect Electronics: Unplug electrical appliances and cover them with plastic sheeting.
  • Protect Water Sources: Disconnect downspouts from rain gutters to prevent ash from entering your water system.

What to Do After an Ash Fall

Once the ashfall has subsided, take the following steps to ensure your safety and aid in recovery:

  • Ventilate Your Home: Open windows and doors to ventilate your home and remove any remaining ash particles.
  • Clean Up Safely: Once the ashfall has ended, take precautions when cleaning up ash around your property. Use a dust mask and gloves to avoid inhalation and skin contact with ash. Use gentle sweeping motions to remove ash from surfaces to prevent it from becoming airborne again.
  • Check Your Roof: Ash can be heavy and cause roofs to collapse. Carefully remove ash from your roof, starting at the top and working your way down.
  • Monitor Health Symptoms: Pay attention to any health symptoms that may arise during ashfall, such as coughing, difficulty breathing, eye irritation, or skin rashes. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.
  • Help Your Neighbors: Check on the older people or vulnerable neighbors who may need assistance with cleanup.

Additional Tips

  • Don’t Panic: Stay calm and follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Stock Up on Water: Ashfall can contaminate water supplies, so have plenty of bottled water on hand.
  • Be Prepared for Power Outages: Keep flashlights and batteries readily available.
  • Keep Pets Indoors: Ash can harm animals, so keep them safe inside.

Understanding the Volcanic Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire is a major area in the Pacific Ocean basin where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. This 40,000 km (25,000 mile) horseshoe-shaped belt is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and plate movements. It’s a hotbed of seismic activity, featuring about 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes.

What is the Ring of Fire?

The Ring of Fire results from plate tectonics and the movement and collisions of lithospheric plates. It includes several tectonic plates, such as the Pacific Plate, the Philippine Sea Plate, the Juan de Fuca Plate, the Cocos Plate, and the Nazca Plate, among others. The intense geological activity is due to subduction zones where one plate is forced under another, leading to the formation of volcanic activity.

Key Facts

  1. Geographic Scope: The Ring of Fire extends along the western coasts of North and South America, across the Aleutian Islands, and down the eastern coasts of Asia to New Zealand.
  2. Volcanic Activity: Home to over 450 volcanoes, including some of the world’s most famous ones like Mount St. Helens, Mount Fuji, and Mount Pinatubo.
  3. Earthquake Frequency: Experiences around 90% of the world’s earthquakes, including the most powerful ones.
  4. Population at Risk: Millions of people live in areas affected by the Ring of Fire, making it crucial to understand the risks and safety measures related to volcanic activity and ashfall.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the health risks of volcanic ash?

Volcanic ash can cause respiratory issues, eye irritation, and skin problems. It’s important to wear protective gear to minimize exposure.

How can I protect my home from ashfall?

Close all windows and doors, seal gaps with damp towels, and protect electronics and sensitive equipment by covering them.

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What should I do if I need to go outside during an ashfall?

Wear an N95 mask or respirator, safety goggles, long sleeves, and pants to minimize skin exposure to ash.

How do I clean up volcanic ash safely?

Wet the ash before sweeping to prevent dust from becoming airborne. Use a damp cloth to wipe surfaces, and avoid using vacuums, which can get damaged.

Where can I find updated information during an ashfall event?

Follow local government updates, listen to local radio stations, and monitor official social media channels for real-time information and instructions.

Infographic on what to do during a volcanic ashfall.
Share this infographic on what to do during a volcanic ashfall.


Volcanic ashfall poses significant health risks and can severely impact daily life. By understanding the hazards associated with ashfall and following these safety guidelines, you can protect yourself and your loved ones during and after a volcanic eruption. Stay informed, take precautions, and prioritize your health and safety in the face of natural disasters.

Remember, safety always comes first. By following these guidelines, you can navigate ash fall situations with confidence and resilience.

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Stay safe, everyone. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more tips and travel hacks.

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