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Kilauea volcano: Hawaiians warned of 'powerful' eruptions within hours

18 May 2018

Another fissure has emerged on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, bringing the total to 21, as authorities handed out protective masks and local officials warned that toxic ash and sulfur dioxide gas are the biggest health concerns for people near the mountain.

An ash plume Wednesday rose roughly 12,000 feet into the air, and on Tuesday, the USGS issued a red alert, which means a major eruption is imminent or underway and ash could affect air traffic.

"We've had reports of light ash fall in Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park and we expect that folks may be experiencing trace ash fall around Volcano Village", Michelle Coombs, a volcanologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told reporters at a daily briefing. Last week, scientists said that if Kilauea's lava lake drains too fast, it could trigger explosions that hurl refrigerator-size boulders into the air.

This type of eruption has the potential to carpet the Big Island in much thicker ash than current dustings.

News coverage of the Big Island events have been pretty balanced, Tolentino said, but noted that inaccuracies have not helped, especially when a national news outlet reported Oahu residents were forced to evacuate. "If given the opportunity and the call most likely we will head back out".

In another news conference Thursday, the deputy scientist in charge of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, Steve Brantley, said the lava flows in the east rift zone have slowed in recent days.

A geologist inspects cracks on a road following the eruption of Kilauea volcano
Image A geologist inspects cracks in a road following the eruption of Kilauea volcano

"Shelter in place if you are in the path of the ash plume".

Thursday's explosion sent an ash plume around 30,000 feet high.

The eruption of Kilauea began on May 3. Shield volcanoes like Kilauea produce runny, basaltic lava that does not tend to erupt as dramatically as steep stratovolcanos like Mount St. Helens. But these golfers in Hawaii have rounds to go before they sleep. Whereas St. Helens sits along the geologically active boundary of the Pacific Plate, Kilauea and the other Hawaiian volcanoes are powered by inside the Earth's mantle.

Mount Pinatubo last erupted in 1991, killing more than 350 people in what became the second-largest eruption of the 20th century.

Thursday's event was, if not the huge one, then certainly a big one, researchers told further.

Their hope is to pinpoint warning signs that could be used to predict phreatic eruptions in Hawaii and elsewhere.

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Kilauea volcano: Hawaiians warned of 'powerful' eruptions within hours