‘Ex­cited and scared’: Hawaii vol­cano spews huge cloud of ash

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Sophia Yan and Caleb Jones

HONOLULU » A vol­cano on Hawaii’s Big Is­land erupted anew 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 of Ki­lauea 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.” 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.

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 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 Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­tended a re­stric­tion on air­craft from en­ter­ing the airspace up to 30,000 feet (9,100 me­ters) above Ki­lauea’s sum­mit. The ear­lier limit was up to 10,000 feet (3,000 me­ters). The pro­hi­bi­tion ap­plies to a 5-mile (8-kilo­me­ter) ra­dius around the crater.

Thurs­day’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 over risks of a vi­o­lent erup­tion.

U.S. GEOLOGICAL SUR­VEY VIA AP

This Thurs­day aerial im­age re­leased by the U.S. Geological Sur­vey, shows Fis­sure 17 at about 7 a.m. HST., in Pa­hoa, Hawaii. The HVO field crew re­ported that the spat­ter­ing height and in­ten­sity at Fis­sure 17 seemed to have in­ten­si­fied slightly from yes­ter­day, but the length of ac­tive spat­ter­ing in the fis­sure is shorter. The over­all vigor of Fis­sure 17 ap­pears to have dropped over the past two days, ac­com­pa­ny­ing a stalling of the Fis­sure 17 flow front.

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