Published: Fri, May 18, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has erupted from summit: USGS

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has erupted from summit: USGS

Early Thursday morning, Kilauea erupted explosively, spewing boulders and wet, dusty ash into the sky, an event scientists warned might happen as the volcano's draining lava lake approached groundwater.

The explosion at 4:17 a.m. from Halema'uma'u crater was short lived and generated trace amounts of ash around Volcano.

Island authorities warned winds could carry the ash as far as the town of Hilo, about 50km away from Mount Kilauea, home to about 43,000 people.

Thursday's eruption did not affect the Big Island's two largest airports in Hilo and in Kailua-Kona.

"The activity is such that they can occur at any time, separated by a number of hours", Hawaiian National Volcano Observatory Deputy Scientist-In-Charge Steve Brantley told reporters on a conference call.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's decision to close Friday due to the risk of an explosive eruption will discourage travelers, said Janet Coney, the office manager at Kilauea Lodge, an inn in Volcano.

"A lot of my friends from the mainland, they have been inundating me with, 'Are you OK?' A lot of them think we're (just) one island", she said.

The advisory has also emphasized new policies for the safety of Hawaii residents, as the update pointed out that for most of the people on the islands, the main danger is the ash fallout.

Geologists said the 4:15am explosion was likely to be the first in a series of steam-driven explosions last seen in 1924, rather than "the big one" that nervous residents had been fearing. The lava was flowing from fissure 17, one of the most active of the 20 new fissures that have emerged.

Lava spits out from a fissure created by the eruption of Kilauea, on the big island of Hawaii. Masks for family members are advised as well, but residents near fissures should remember that cloth masks, like those now being distributed for free at certain community centers in the area, will not protect them from unsafe gases and vapors. Hawaii's state volcanologist, Bruce Houghton, says that the current event appears to be a type of complex eruption that occurs only once every 50 to 80 years.

This eruption is generating an ash plume as high as 25,000 feet.

A red aviation code had already been issued - warning pilots to avoid the potentially damaging ash cloud. Passenger jets generally cruise at around 30,000 feet, the height of Thursday's plume. "We as the scientific community feel we owe it to the people being impacted to get it right and learn as much as we can", he says.

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