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Washington Lawmakers Demand Repairs for Shrinking Drainage Tunnel

Three Washington State members of Congress are sounding a bi-partisan alarm over a slowly collapsing drainage tunnel at the foot of Mount Saint Helens, built after the catastrophic eruption in 1980.

Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell - both Democrats - and Representative Jaime Herrera Buetler - a Republican - are urging the US Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to move quickly to shore up the crumbling tunnel at Spirit Lake.

The tunnel was built to help drain the lake, which began to fill rapidly and overflow after mud, rocks and lava from the massive explosions filled up the lake's natural outflow channels. The 1.6 mile long drainage tunnel was dug to provide a new outlet.

But ground around the still active volcano is shifting, causing the tunnel to constrict. A survey by the Corps of engineers just last month confirmed the problem.

The lawmakers fired off an urgent letter to the Forest Service and the Corps of Engineers asking them to make immediate repairs and to map out a plan for long-term stabilization of the lake level.

They warned that if ground movement strangles the tunnel, flooding and mudflows could affect more than 48,000 people living below the volcano.

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