New lava rifts open as Hawaii volcano threatens explosive eruption

Sixteenth, 17 th and 18 th fissures open with magma thrown 100 ft into air while geologists say steam eruption could make 20,000 ft plume

A new fissure in Hawaii’s Puna district has sent gases and lava exploding into the air, spurring officials to call for more evacuations as residents waited for a possible major eruption at Kilauea volcano’s summit.

Hawaii district civil defense issued an emergency alert after the rift was discovered early Sunday morning. The agency said one” unidentified structure” was destroyed by the new vent, bringing the total number of homes and other houses lost to the lava to virtually 40.

Residents in the immediate region were told to evacuate, and two nearby community centers were serving as shelters for people and pets.

Geologists caution that Kilauea’s summit could have an explosive steam eruption that would lunge huge boulders and ash miles into the sky.

Thousands of people have fled their homes on Big Island and dozens of structures have been destroyed. Geologists have warned that Kilauea’s summit could have an explosive steam eruption that would spew ash 20,000 ft( 6,100 metres) high and spread debris up to 12 miles( 19 km ).

The new rift- the 18 th- was reported to the west of Highway 132, along Hale Kamahina Loop Road. Residents on that road were ordered to evacuate. Two community centers were open to shelter people and pets.

Two new fissures also opened on Saturday, around the Leilani Estates neighborhood. The US Geological Survey( USGS) reported that the 17 th rift, which opened around 6pm on Saturday, was spattering but no flow had formed. The 16 th rift spilled lava into a field earlier in the day, close to several homes.

” It’s right by my house, which is kind of scary ,” said Haley Clinton, 17, who walked to see the new fissure with her father, Darryl, and sister Jolon, 15. “It’s really cool.”

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A lava fissure erupts as a resident stands nearby in Pahoa, Hawaii. Photograph: Mario Tama/ Getty Images

From afar, the fissure gave off dull, thumping roarings that sharpened to a scream from ventilating steam and gas, mixed with the slapping audios of liquid lava. Within hours, the fissure had piled reddish-black lava about 40 ft( 12 metres) high and at least 150 ft( 45 metres) in duration. Chunks of magma were spewed 100 ft( 30 metres) into the air.

The intense heat left onlookers drenched with sweat and the air was filled with an acrid, burned aroma. With gas and smoking blowing in the opposite direction, there was no pungent smell of toxic sulfur dioxide.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported that the fissures opened merely east of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant. Plant employees last week removed 50,000 gallons of pentane gas stored at the site. Shortly after the 16 th fissure opened, the observatory said seismic activity remained “elevated” at Kilauea’s 4,000 ft summit. The USGS reported that a shallow but small earthquake with a magnitude of 3.5 hit the island on Saturday.

Kilauea’s vents ought to have oozing relatively cool, sluggish magma left over from a similar event in 1955. Fresher magma could now emerge behind it. As the area affected widens, residents were racing to buy respirators to cope with the ash and toxic gases. David Baxter, 54, an employee of Pahoa Auto Parts, said the shop had sold about 3,000 respirators so far. The shop was all out on Saturday.

” We pretty much bought up every[ respirator] in the nation, and we are selling them at cost- actually, a slight loss ,” said Baxter.” We need to breathe .”

Some pets have been left behind as residents have fled. The Hawaii Island Humane Society said it had rescued 16 puppies, three rabbits, four tortoises and four cats. Virtually all had been picked up by their owners, and 1,400 livestock and 32 ponies had also been taken from the volcano zone, the society said in a statement.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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