Friday 22 March 2019

Hawaii volcano could blow its top soon, experts warn

Scientists said an eruptive explosion would not be deadly if people stay out of closed areas around the volcano.

Steam and gas rise from Kilauea’s summit crater in Hawaii (Jae C Hong/AP)
Steam and gas rise from Kilauea’s summit crater in Hawaii (Jae C Hong/AP)

By Sophia Yan and Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

A Hawaii volcano is threatening to blow its top in the coming days or weeks, after sputtering lava for a week, forcing about 2,000 people to evacuate and threatening a geothermal plant, experts have warned.

Scientists fear the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island could hurl ash and boulders the size of fridges miles into the air.

But experts say an eruptive explosion would not be deadly if people stay out of closed areas of a national park around the volcano.

“If it goes up, it will come down,” said Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the US Geological Survey.

“You don’t want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it’s coming out at 120 mph.”

The added threat could ground planes at one of the island’s two major airports and pose other dangers. The volcano park closed indefinitely on Thursday night because of the risks.

“We know the volcano is capable of doing this,” Mr Mandeville said, citing similar explosions at Kilauea in 1925, 1790 and four other times over the last few thousand years. “We know it is a distinct possibility.”

Visitors take pictures at Kilauea’s summit crater (Jae C Hong/AP)

He would not estimate the likelihood of such an explosion, but said internal volcanic conditions are changing in a way that could lead to a blast in about a week. The volcano’s internal plumbing could still prevent an explosion.

If an explosive eruption happens, a summit blast could also release steam and sulphur dioxide gas.

Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures – including 26 homes – since May 3, when it began releasing lava from vents about 25 miles east of the summit crater. Fifteen vents are now spread through the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens districts.

Hawaii Governor David Ige said crews at a geothermal energy plant near the lava outbreak had accelerated the removal of stored flammable fuel as a precaution. The Puna Geothermal Venture plant had about 50,000 gallons of pentane. It was removed early on Thursday.

Barbara Lozano, who lives within a mile of the plant, said she would have thought twice about buying her property if she had known the risks.

“Why did they let us buy residential property, knowing it was a dangerous situation? Why did they let people build all around it?” she asked.

Avani Love, 29, moved to the Big Island about a month ago from Maui with her four children. They evacuated their home on May 3, and only found out it was destroyed when a relative went back to get her personal belongings.

A lava flow advances in the Leilani Estates near Pahoa, Hawaii (Scott Wiggers/Apau Hawaii Tours via AP)

While saying she is sad to have lost her home, she also feels a sense of renewal brought on by Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, to correct overpopulation of the island.

“Everyone comes here,” she said. “When you have that, it’s Pele’s way of clearing house and restoring the place. There’s beauty and also darkness.”

Press Association

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