Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has erupted and sent ash spewing 30,000 feet into the sky before raining down on a nearby town, with residents being warned to shelter in place as the dusty plume engulfs the island.
The powerful, steam-driven explosion occurred on Thursday at 4.17am and started spewing large amounts of volcanic ash and smoke from the crater on Hawaii’s Big Island that shot higher than the peak of Mount Everest.
Geologists have warned that the volcano could become even more violent, with increasing ash production and the potential that future blasts could hurl boulders from the summit.
The wind could carry the ash plume as far as Hilo, the Big Island’s largest city and major tourism center, the County of Hawaii Civil Defense warned in an alert.
‘Protect yourself from ash fallout,’ the warning alert said. ‘The resulting ash plume will cover the surrounding area.
‘You should shelter in place if you are in the path of the ash plume. Driving conditions may be dangerous so if you are driving pull off the road and wait until visibility improves.’
USGS geologists and staff were evacuated from the summit shortly before the blast and a webcam showed a gray plume of ash and chunks of magma known as pyroclasts that showered the volcano’s slopes.
An aviation red alert was also issued due to risks that ash could be carried into aircraft routes and damage jet engines.
The eruption could not only enshroud large areas of the Big Island in volcanic ash and smog but other Hawaiian Islands and potentially distant areas if the plume reaches up into the stratosphere and ash is carried by winds.
National Guard troops donned gas masks to protect themselves from toxic sulfur dioxide gas at the intersection of highways 130 and 132, the main exit routes from the village of Pahoa, 25 miles east of the volcano, where many of the ground fissures have erupted, according to a Reuters reporter on the ground.
The explosion came a day after ‘ballistic blocks’ the size of microwave ovens started shooting from the volcano in what experts had predicted was the start of eruption.
The USGS predicted that steam-driven blasts could send a massive ash plume out of the crater and hurl 10-12 ton boulders up to half a mile.
Those areas were evacuated as lava destroyed at least 26 homes and 10 other structures.
The crater sits within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed since May 11. Officials have said they didn’t expect the explosion to be deadly as long as people remained out of park.
Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. An eruption in 1924 killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.
Scientists warned on May 9 that a drop in the lava lake at the summit might create conditions for an explosion that could fling ash and boulders the size of refrigerators into the air.
Scientists predicted it would mostly release trapped steam from flash-heated groundwater released as though it was a kitchen pressure cooker.
Communities a mile or two away may be showered by pea-size fragments or dusted with nontoxic ash, they said.
Kilauea volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983.
It’s one of five volcanoes that comprise the Big Island of Hawaii, and the only one currently erupting.