Hawaii vol­cano erupts anew, spews huge plume of ash into sky

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Sophia Yan and Caleb Jones

HONOLULU » Hawaii’s Ki­lauea vol­cano erupted anew early Thurs­day with lit­tle sound and only mod­est fury, spew­ing a steely gray plume of ash about 30,000 feet (9,100 me­ters) into the sky that be­gan raining down on a nearby town.

The ex­plo­sion at the sum­mit came shortly af­ter 4 a.m. fol­low­ing two weeks of vol­canic ac­tiv­ity that sent lava flows into neigh­bor­hoods and de­stroyed at least 26 homes. Sci­en­tists said the erup­tion was the most pow­er­ful in re­cent days, though it prob­a­bly lasted only a few min­utes.

Ge­ol­o­gists have warned that the vol­cano could be­come even more vi­o­lent, with in­creas­ing ash pro­duc­tion and the po­ten­tial that fu­ture blasts could hurl boul­ders the size of cows from the sum­mit.

Toby Hazel, who lives in Pahoa, near the mountain, said she heard “a lot of boom­ing sounds” Thurs­day. Those came af­ter days of earth­quakes.

“It’s just time to go — it re­ally, re­ally is,” she said, pre­par­ing to leave town. “I feel so sorry for the peo­ple who don’t go, be­cause they don’t have the money, or don’t want to go to a shel­ter and leave their houses.”

Some peo­ple in the com­mu­nity clos­est to the vol­cano slept through the blast, said Kanani Aton, a spokes­woman for Hawaii County Civil De­fense, who spoke to rel­a­tives and friends in the town called Vol­cano.

At least one per­son who was awake heard noth­ing. Epic Lava tour op­er­a­tor John Tar­son is an early riser and only learned about the erup­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing an alert on his phone. The plume, a tow­er­ing col­umn of ash reach­ing into a hazy sky, looked dif­fer­ent than oth­ers he’s wit­nessed, be­cause of its sheer height.

“What I no­ticed is the plume was just rising straight into the air, and it was not tip­ping in any direc­tion,” he said. “We’ve been ex­pect­ing this, and a lot of peo­ple are go­ing to see it and get ex­cited and scared.”

Tour guide Scott Wig­gers didn’t hear the erup­tion ei­ther and wasn’t aware any­thing hap­pened. Later in the morn­ing, he picked up four trav­el­ers for a tour and headed to­ward the vol­cano with the hopes of see­ing “some ac­tion.” But it was raining too hard for them to see much.

The only sign of the erup­tion he en­coun­tered was ash cov­er­ing the back bumper of his truck.

Res­i­dents as far away as Hilo, about 30 miles from Ki­lauea, were start­ing to no­tice the vol­cano’s ef­fects. Pua’ena Ahn, who lives in Hilo, com­plained about hav­ing la­bored breath­ing, itchy, wa­tery eyes and some skin ir­ri­ta­tion from air­borne ash.

A Na­tional Weather Ser­vice ash ad­vi­sory was in ef­fect until noon, and county of­fi­cials dis­trib­uted ash masks to area res­i­dents. Sev­eral schools closed be­cause of the risk of el­e­vated lev­els of sul­fur diox­ide, a vol­canic gas.

The im­me­di­ate risk health risk comes from ash par­ti­cles in the air, said Dr. Josh Green, a state se­na­tor who rep­re­sents part of the Big Is­land.

Any­one with res­pi­ra­tory dif­fi­cul­ties, such as asthma or em­phy­sema, should limit ex­po­sure to the ash, Green said.

“Peo­ple need to stay in­side until the winds shift and the ash has set­tled,” he said.

Ex­tended ex­po­sure to sul­fur diox­ide can in­crease risk of bron­chi­tis and up­per res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions in the long run, ac­cord­ing to find­ings of a study Green worked on with other ex­perts pub­lished in 2010 in the Jour­nal of Tox­i­col­ogy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Health.

The sum­mit crater sits within Hawaii Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park, which has been closed since May 11 as a safety pre­cau­tion over risks of a vi­o­lent erup­tion.

Sci­en­tists warned May 9 that a drop in the lava lake at the sum­mit might cre­ate con­di­tions for a large ex­plo­sion. Ge­ol­o­gists pre­dicted such a blast would mostly re­lease trapped steam from flash-heated ground­wa­ter.

Ki­lauea, one of the world’s most ac­tive vol­ca­noes, has been erupt­ing con­tin­u­ously since 1983. It’s among the five vol­ca­noes that form the Big Is­land, and it’s the only one ac­tively erupt­ing. An erup­tion in 1924 killed one per­son and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.

Sci­en­tists can­not say why the erup­tion is hap­pen­ing now, given that Ki­lauea has been ac­tive for 35 years.

“There’s so many vari­ables. It’s com­pli­cated, like a bad Face­book re­la­tion­ship sta­tus,” said vol­ca­nol­o­gist Ja­nine Kripp­ner of Con­cord Univer­sity in West Vir­ginia. “Some­thing will even­tu­ally change, like it has over and over and over again.”

CINDY ELLEN RUS­SELL/HONOLULU STAR-AD­VER­TISER VIA AP

A plume of vol­canic steam rises from the align­ment of fis­sures in Hawaii’s Ki­lauea East Rift zone, Wed­nes­day, May 16, 2018. Earth­quakes were dam­ag­ing roads and build­ings on Hawaii’s Big Is­land on Wed­nes­day as ash emis­sions streamed from Ki­lauea vol­cano.

U.S. GE­O­LOG­I­CAL SUR­VEY VIA AP

This Wed­nes­day, May 16, 2018, im­age pro­vided by the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey shows sul­fur diox­ide plumes rising from fis­sures along the rift and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing in the cloud deck, viewed from the Hawai­ian Vol­cano Ob­ser­va­tory over­flight in the morn­ing at...

U.S. GE­O­LOG­I­CAL SUR­VEY/HVO VIA AP

This Thurs­day, May 17, 2018 im­age pro­vided by the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey shows a view of the ash plume re­sult­ing from an early morn­ing ex­plo­sion at Ki­lauea Vol­cano, in Hawaii. The vol­cano has erupted from its sum­mit, shoot­ing a dusty plume of ash about...

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