Fears of massive explosion as Hawaii lava flow reaches power station
Residents in Hawaii fear a massive explosion as a fiery new lava flow headed for a geothermal power station at the weekend.
Molten rock from the erupting Kilauea volcano continued to relentlessly bulldoze through homes and backyards almost a month after it began.
The lava crossed onto the land occupied by Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), according to the US Geological Survey, having destroyed dozens of nearby houses in the past few days.
Since Hawaii's Kilauea volcano began a once-in-a-century-scale eruption on May 3, authorities have shut down the plant, removed 60,000 gallons of flammable liquid and deactivated wells that tap into steam and gas deep in the Earth's core.
Magma has drained from Kilauea's summit lava lake and flowed 40km east underground, bursting out of about two dozen giant cracks or fissures near the plant.
"The flow from fissures 21 and seven was widening and advancing," said Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for the County of Hawaii.
Hawaii Governor David Ige has insisted wells are stable.
But lava has never engulfed a geothermal plant anywhere in the world and the potential threat is untested, according to the head of the state's emergency management agency.
Local residents fear an explosive emission of deadly hydrogen sulfide and other gases should wells be ruptured.
Residents have complained of health hazards from emissions from the plant since it went online in 1989 and PGV has been the target of lawsuits challenging its location on the flank of one of the world's most active volcanoes.
The Israeli-owned 38-megawatt plant typically provides around 25pc of electricity on the Big Island.
Operator Ormat Technologies Inc last week said there was no above-ground damage to the plant but it would have to wait until the situation stabilised to assess the impact of earthquakes and lava flows.
In 24 hours at the weekend, there were up to 270 earthquakes at Kilauea's summit, with four explosions sending ash to altitudes as high as 12,000-15,000 feet.