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