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Hawaii braces for worse lava flows from erupting volcano

12 May 2018

Since the volcano erupted eight days ago, fifteen large fissures have opened on the eastern flank of Kilauea.

If Hawaii's Kilauea volcano blows its top in the coming days or weeks, as experts fear, it could hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air, shutting down airline traffic and endangering lives in all directions, scientists said Thursday.

Steaming cracks in the ground, the first sign a fissure may be opening, closed roads in areas to the northeast and southwest of Leilani Estates where scientists believe the next lava geysers may appear.

The Leilani Estates residential area remains in greatest danger, with 15 volcanic fissures so far having destroyed 36 structures, a lot of them homes, and forcing the evacuation of about 2000 residents.

A line of spattering along a lava lake margin of the Kilauea Volcano last month.

"It's just frightful. You can't breathe in there", said evacuated resident Robynn Stagg, 58, who drove through the thick, orange sulfur dioxide haze earlier this week in a failed attempt to check on her home.

An explosive eruption could also ground planes at one of Big Island's two major airports and release steam and toxic sulfurous fumes.

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials urged residents in a community near Kilauea Volcano to be vigilant amid ongoing volcanic activity and hazardous emissions - and to be prepared to evacuated on short notice, CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB reports.

"Because the lava intrusion is still active and earthquakes are still occurring, we still think there's a decent chance of new eruptive activity at the surface", Steven Brantley said.

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Travel industry executives note most of the Big Island is free of eruption threats from Kilauea, which began spurting lava into a residential neighbourhood last week.

No one lives in the immediate area of the summit crater. Volcano and other nearby communities may be showered by pea-sized fragments or dusted with nontoxic ash but they aren't expected to get hit by large boulders, she said.

Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures - including 26 homes - since May 3, when it began releasing lava from vents about 25 miles east of the summit crater.

Authorities previously ordered almost 2,000 residents to leave the neighborhoods in and around the vents in the mostly rural district of Puna. The Puna Geothermal Venture plant has about 50,000 gallons (189,270 liters) of pentane.

As a result of that event, the lava lake that once existed there disappeared, though one returned in 2009.

No new fissures have emerged, leaving the total number at 15, authorities said.

At a meeting on Thursday night, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist Steve Brantley told residents that magma created by a 1955 eruption was being forced to the surface by Kilauea. That kind of explosive eruption was last displayed by the volcano almost a century ago.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said crews at a geothermal energy plant near the lava outbreak accelerated the removal of stored flammable fuel as a precaution on Thursday.

Hawaii braces for worse lava flows from erupting volcano