Sunday 19 August 2018

Man injured after being hit by flying lava from volcano

Flames are seen in a lava flow on Highway 137 southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii
Photo: REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Flames are seen in a lava flow on Highway 137 southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Photo: REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Caleb Jones and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

A man has been injured after being hit by flying lava from a volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.

Kilauea volcano began erupting more than two weeks ago and has burned dozens of homes and forced people to flee.

Plumes of steam have been shot from its summit and forced officials to distribute face masks to protect against ash particles.

Lava flows have grown more vigorous in past days, spattering molten rock that hit the victim in the leg.

He was outside his home on Saturday in the remote, rural region affected by the volcano when the lava "hit him on the shin, and shattered everything from there down on his leg", Janet Snyder, Hawaii County mayor's spokeswoman, said.

Lava that is flying through the air from cracks in the Earth can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces can be lethal, officials said.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anthony, of the Hawaii National Guard, measures sulfur dioxide gas levels at a lava flow on Highway 137
Photo: REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anthony, of the Hawaii National Guard, measures sulfur dioxide gas levels at a lava flow on Highway 137 Photo: REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The injury came the same day that lava streamed across a highway and flowed into the ocean.

The phenomenon sends hydrochloric acid and steam with glass particles into the air and can lead to lung, eye and skin irritation, another danger for residents as the plume can shift with the wind, the Hawaii County Civil Defence agency said.

The highway has been closed in some places and residents in the area have been evacuated.

With the problems adding up, scientists cannot say whether lava flows from nearly two dozen fissures will keep advancing or stop.

"We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption," said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. "We're kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty."

The area affected by lava and ash is small compared with the Big Island, which is about 4,000 square miles. The volcano has spared most of the island and the rest of the Hawaiian chain.

Officials have reminded tourists that flights, including on the Big Island, have not been affected. Even on the Big Island, most tourist activities are available and businesses are open.

Evacuation orders for two neighbourhoods with nearly 2,000 people were given after the first fissure opened on May 3. Officials have been warning neighbouring communities to be prepared to evacuate.

Lava flows have sped up as fresher magma mixes with decades-old magma, creating hotter and more fluid flows, scientists said. Two fissures had merged by Saturday, creating a wide flow moving at up to 300 yards per hour.

Edwin Montoya, who lives with his daughter on her farm near where lava crossed a road and trapped a handful of people on Friday, said the fissure opened and grew quickly.

"It was just a little crack in the ground, with a little lava coming out," he said. "Now it's a big crater that opened up where the small little crack in the ground was."

Steam rises as a lava flow enters the Pacific Ocean southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 20, 2018
REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Steam rises as a lava flow enters the Pacific Ocean southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 20, 2018 REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

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