Two new fissures cracked open on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano over the weekend, and magma and rock burst into the air. Local Mark Clawson, who hadn’t evacuated, told Reuters, “It is a near-constant roar akin to a full-throttle 747 interspersed with deafening, earth-shattering explosions that hurl 100-pound lava bombs 100 feet into the air.” The eruptions have destroyed almost 40 buildings and one fissure threatens to disrupt a nearby geothermal plant. Meanwhile, the lava lake in Kilauea has been dropping, and experts are warning of a possible explosive eruption.
A new fissure that looks to be around 1,000 feet long is one of the biggest, Reuters said. Hawaii’s Civil Defense ordered more evacuations over the weekend as Kilauea continues erupting. Over 10 days, almost 2,000 people have been told to evacuate. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in an update on Sunday evening local time the eruption “is still evolving and additional outbreaks of lava are possible.” They warned communities downslope of the fissures “could be at risk from lava inundation” and that “activity can change rapidly.”
Toxic gases continue to spew as well; Reuters said trees withered and vegetation turned brown in places with strong sulfur dioxide emissions. All this prompted some officials to prepare residents for the possibility of an eruption. “We’ve got all the warning signs we need,” said Steve Brantley, deputy scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “There may not be any additional warning before the magma actually starts moving up to the surface.”
The Civil Defense told people living in lower Puna to be prepared to leave, and that “there may be little to no advance notice to evacuate.” Reuters quoted Major Jeff Hickman of the Hawaii National Guard as saying, “We’ve been telling them, ‘Evacuate if you can, because if we have to come in and get you we’ll be putting first responders at risk. There’s a point where we’ll tell our first responders, ‘Nope, you can’t go.'”
While the fissures post a risk where they form, the real concern about eruption comes from the fact that the lava level has been dropping inside the volcano. If the volcano does erupt, it could send boulders the size of refrigerators into the air and plumes as high as 20,000 feet, with debris and ashfalls landing tens of miles downwind.
The Washington Post reported the volcanic eruption doesn’t just threaten homes, but a geothermal plant residents have been concerned about for a long time. Lawsuits have targeted the Puna Geothermal Venture for its location on an active volcano. Authorities are worried over potential explosions or gas leaks because of Kilauea’s activity. Operations stopped on May 3 and workers removed potentially hazardous chemicals from the facility as a precaution.
Images via the U.S. Geological Survey