Explosions at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano intensified late Tuesday, belching ash plume nearly three and half kilometres into the sky, forcing officials to raise an alert to the highest level.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued a red warning late Tuesday advising that a “major volcanic eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected with hazardous activity both on the ground and in the air.” It’s the first time the alert reached the red level since the first eruption occurred nearly two weeks ago.
Michelle Coombs, a geologist with the USGS, said ash is continuing to vent from Kilauea’s summit as the crater remains quite active.
“We’ve had ash emissions intermittently on and off over the last few days. Ramped up a little bit more yesterday and then this morning ash emissions from Halemaumau (volcanic crater within Kilauea) became even more intense,” Coombs said. “In response to this continued continuous emission, we’ve raised what we call the aviation colour code for Killalea to red.
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“That’s really just to alert the aviation community that there is significant airborne ash,” Coombs added.
However, Hawaiian County Civil Defense Agency said rock falls and gas explosions from one of the craters on Kilauea had caused the ash plume which was drifting downwind to the southwest, warning residents in the path of the plume that they could experience issues breathing and to exercise caution while driving.
“Condition RED means immediate danger to health so take action to limit further exposure. Severe conditions may exist such as choking and inability to breathe,” the agency said in a statement. “Sulfur dioxide gas from fissures is especially dangerous for elderly, children/babies and people with respiratory problems.”
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) warned for the potential of “ballistic projectiles” as a result of any shift in the crater.
“At any time, activity may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent,” the agency said in a statement.
The HVO said during the explosions, chunks of rock of up to two metres across could be tossed from Kilauea in any direction to a distance of one kilometre or further. These “ballistic blocks” could weigh a “few kilograms to several tons,” the agency noted.
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Ash and volcanic gas has forced the evacuation of nearly 2,000 residents and lava flows have destroyed nearly 40 structures.
“We’re observing more or less continuous emission of ash now with intermittent, more energetic ash bursts or plumes,” Steve Brantley, a deputy scientist in charge at the HVO, told reporters.
No deaths or injuries have been reported.
–with a file from Reuters
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