Published: Sat, May 12, 2018
Global | By Enrique Rogers

Hawaii volcano could blow its top soon, hurl rocks and ash

Hawaii volcano could blow its top soon, hurl rocks and ash

"What we've already been seeing is that chunks of the surrounding vents are just dropping off into the lava and that's why we're getting these small explosions", said Jessica Johnson, a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Those types of big blowouts usually take place in stratovolcanoes, steep-sided, cone-shaped volcanoes where pressure builds up in a central vent until the mountain pops in a dramatic explosion. "You don't want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it's coming out at 120 miles per hour (193 kph)".

While locals contend with lava and gas on the ground, explosions at Kilauea's summit some 25 miles (40 km) to the west were dusting communities with ash that irritated eyes and breathing. Fifteen of the vents are now spread through the Leilani Estates and neighboring Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods.

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

Smigelski-Theiss says she's anxious potential flight disruptions would strand them on the island. The lowering of the lava lake at the volcano "has raised the potential for explosive eruptions in the coming weeks", the agency said in its statement.

Officials say they aren't expecting a possible explosive volcano eruption to be life-threatening as long as people stay out of a surrounding Hawaii national park that's preparing to close.

"It seems pretty safe to me right now, but they'd know best", said Cindy Woodd, who was visiting from British Columbia, Canada.

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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. "Life and safety is what's most important". 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.

In little more than a week, the top of the lava lake has gone from spilling over the crater to nearly 970 feet below the surface as of Thursday morning, Mandeville said.

Scientists fear that, as lava and superheated rocks meet the water table below ground, steam could accumulate and cause an explosion that hurls massive rocks into the sky.

"I'm not too anxious about it because I've lived here so long and I've seen it go through lots of different episodes", Hughes said. The last major one occurred in 1924 and spanned more than 2½ weeks, with more than 50 explosive events. And once the lava drops below the water table, water hits rocks that are as hot as nearly 2,200 degrees (1,200 degrees Celsius) and flashes into steam.

People should also be cautious around the water: once lava interacts with saltwater, it produces hydrochloric acid, which is toxic.

The danger zone from such a blast could extend about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the summit, land that all falls within the national park, Mandeville said.

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