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Mount St. Helens coughs up ash

Ash billows from Mount St. Helens on Tuesday.
Volcanic eruption
U.S. Geological Survey

(CNN) -- Washington state's Mount St. Helens volcano belched a column of smoke and ash nearly six miles high Tuesday evening, leaving a plume visible for more than 50 miles, authorities reported.

Glowing lava was visible inside the mountain's crater after the disturbance, which occurred at about 5:20 p.m. (8:20 p.m. ET). There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, said Alan Steele, an official with Washington's Emergency Management Division.

Pilots reported the column reached an altitude of about 30,000 feet, the National Weather Service said, but no flights were reported canceled or delayed.

The Weather Service posted ash-fall warnings for the Cascade Mountain foothills of southern Washington after the plume appeared.

"The area that the plume is supposed to go through is pretty much forest land," said Sgt. Tony Barnes of the Clark County, Washington, sheriff's department.

Most of the ash was expected to fall in uninhabited areas of neighboring Skamania County.

"We're concerned that it, of course, has erupted, but it's not to the point where we've mobilized resources up into that area," Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox said.

The volcano, located about 45 miles northeast of Vancouver, Washington, has been rumbling and spewing steam since late September.

Geologists say that activity points to an explosive eruption, though none believe it will reach the intensity of the 1980 eruption that killed 57 people and knocked more than 1,000 feet off the top of the mountain.

That eruption created the mountain's current crater. A new lava dome has been forming inside that crater for the past several months, and the U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday that the growth will be accompanied by low-level tremors, emissions of steam and volcanic gases and some production of ash.

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