Red alert issued for Hawaii's Kilauea volcano – here’s what we know so far

ABOVE: Clouds of ash prompt renewed alert for Hawaii's Kilauea volcano

UPDATED STORY: Explosive eruption rocks Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano summit Thursday

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.

READ MORE: Roaring like jet engines, new fissure opens at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano

“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.

IN PHOTOS

People play golf as an ash plume rises in the distance from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 15, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

People play golf as an ash plume rises in the distance from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 15, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
People watch as ash erupts from the Halemaumau crater during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, May 15, 2018.

People watch as ash erupts from the Halemaumau crater during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, May 15, 2018.

Reuters/Terray Sylvester
Lava flows at a new fissure in the aftermath of eruptions from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island as a local resident walks nearby after taking photos on May 12, 2018 in Pahoa.

Lava flows at a new fissure in the aftermath of eruptions from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island as a local resident walks nearby after taking photos on May 12, 2018 in Pahoa.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Cracks and volcanic debris are seen on a road in Leilani Estate, Hawaii, U.S., May 9, 2018.

Cracks and volcanic debris are seen on a road in Leilani Estate, Hawaii, U.S., May 9, 2018.

Xinhua/Tao Xiyi via Getty Images
Lava shoots into the night sky from active fissures on the lower east rift of the Kilauea volcano, Tuesday, May 15, 2018 near Pahoa, Hawaii.

Lava shoots into the night sky from active fissures on the lower east rift of the Kilauea volcano, Tuesday, May 15, 2018 near Pahoa, Hawaii.

AP Photo/Caleb Jones

“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.

READ MORE: Hawaii officials hoping to bring in tourists despite volcano

“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.

WATCH: Lava erupts from 16th fissure in Hawaii

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

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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