Ash show­ers hit nearby town

The Southland Times - - Front Page -

A vol­cano on Hawaii’s Big Is­land erupted anew yes­ter­day with lit­tle sound and only mod­est fury, spew­ing a steely gray plume of ash about 9100m into the sky that be­gan rain­ing down on a nearby town.

The ex­plo­sion at the sum­mit of Ki­lauea came shortly af­ter 4am lo­cal time fol­low­ing two weeks of vol­canic ac­tiv­ity that sent lava flows into neigh­bour­hoods 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.’’ Those came af­ter days of earth­quakes.

‘‘It’s just time to go — it re­ally, re­ally is. 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 De­fence, 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 trav­ellers for a tour and headed to­wards 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 50km from Ki­lauea, were start­ing to no­tice the vol­cano’s ef­fects.

Pua’ena Ahn, who lives in Hilo, com­plained about hav­ing laboured breath­ing, itchy, wa­tery eyes and some skin ir­ri­ta­tion from air­borne ash.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is­sued an ash ad­vi­sory and then ex­tended it through early evening, 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 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.’’

Ex­tended ex­po­sure to sul­phur 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 Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­tended a re­stric­tion on air­craft from en­ter­ing the airspace up to 9100m above Ki­lauea’s sum­mit. The ear­lier limit was up to 3000m. The pro­hi­bi­tion ap­plies to a 8km ra­dius around the crater.

Yes­ter­day’s erup­tion did not af­fect the Big Is­land’s two largest air­ports in Hilo and in Kailua-Kona.

The crater spew­ing ash sits within Hawaii Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park, which has been closed since May 11 as a safety pre­cau­tion.

Sci­en­tists warned that a drop in the lava lake at the sum­mit might cre­ate con­di­tions for a large ex­plo­sion. – AP

AP

Peo­ple play golf as an ash plume rises in the dis­tance from the Ki­lauea vol­cano on Hawaii’s Big Is­land.

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