Working in shadows of deadly volcanoes

There are a few occupations that require such courage that I am amazed anyone ever chooses them. Firefighters, for instance, and police officers, and school bus drivers are, I am convinced, among the bravest people in the world. After reading Elizabeth Rusch's nonfiction work "Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives," I added volcanologists to my list of intrepid heroes.

With Tom Uhlman's vivid photographs and Rusch's clear prose, the reader enters the perilous world of the women and men who make up the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (DVAP). This international team of scientists risks their lives to help those living in peril in the shadows of volcanoes. How many people fit in this category? Twenty percent of the planet's populations (over a billion people) live in volcano hazard zones.

Rusch provides backstory illuminating the need for the team. She gives the reader a succinct history of known volcanic eruptions. She includes the 1984 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, South America: the impetus for the formation of the organization.

When the Nevado del Ruiz began to rumble, people were not concerned. That included the population of Armero. The town's officials assured its residents there was nothing to fear. After all, the mountain had been silent for more than 100 years. Furthermore, Armero was 45 miles away. Surely that was distance enough to secure their safety.

Tragically, the town officials were wrong. More than 23,000 people died in the Nevado del Ruiz eruption.

With the skill of a master mystery writer, Rusch keeps the reader's attention. What will happen next? We wonder. Will the scientists judge rightly and save lives? Or will they sound a needless alarm and perhaps cause harm to the elderly, the ill or infants? Will the scientists themselves survive if they tarry too long, tracking the volcanic activity?

Budding scientists and adventurers will not be disappointed. "Eruption!" Is a page-turner of the first degree. How could it miss when it stars such courageous heroes?

Ruth Siburt is the author of more than a dozen children's books in the educational field.

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