Hawaii Residents Shaken By Quakes, Brace For New Lava Outbreaks

Villagers look on as Mount Sinabung volcano spews thick volcanic ash in Karo Indonesia on Friday May 19

Hawaii tourism officials are hoping Kilauea's eruption won't deter travellers from visiting the state's largest island, even as geologists warn the volcano could soon shoot large boulders out of its summit.

Dustings of ash were expected downwind of Kilauea on Thursday, local time, as summit earthquakes set off rockfalls into the lava lake and sent up plumes of steam, ash and smoke, the USGS said. Last month it was floods on Kauai.

Two subdivisions were ordered to evacuate last week after lava oozed from cracks in the ground, burning down some two dozen homes.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's decision to close Friday due to the risk of an explosive eruption will discourage travelers, said Janet Coney, the office manager at Kilauea Lodge, an inn in Volcano. "A mass evacuation of the lower Puna District would be beyond current county and state capabilities, and would quickly overwhelm our collective resources", Ige said.

Charles Mandeville, the volcano hazards coordinator for the US Geological Survey, pointed to six "massive" explosions at Kilauea in the past few thousand years.

"You don't want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it's coming out at 193km/h".

The problem lies at the summit of Kilauea, where a lava lake has been draining quickly at a rate of about 6.5 feet per hour, dropping 970 feet below the surface over the past week. It is eventually released through an explosion, sending extremely hot steam, rocks, gases and volcanic ash forcibly upward. Those types of big blowouts usually take place in stratovolcanoes, steep-sided, cone-shaped volcanoes where pressure builds up in a central vent until the mountain pops in a dramatic explosion.

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The national park around Kilauea was off-limits to visitors on Friday for fear the volcano would blow its top in the coming days and hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators kilometres into the air.

George Szigeti, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism says Kilauea is being monitored constantly and says the Big Island is "immense" and there are large parts that are unaffected by the volcano. If another blast happens, the danger zone could extend about 3 miles around the summit, land all inside the national park, Mandeville said. There are now 15 of the vents spread through the Leilani Estates and neighboring Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige says a geothermal energy plant near the lava outbreak would remove its storage of a flammable gas called pentane by the end of the day Thursday. They evacuated their home on May 3, and only found out it was destroyed when a relative went back to get her personal belongings.

About 2,000 people have been evacuated from the neighborhoods were lava has oozed from the ground.

The small, aptly named town of Volcano, Hawaii, population 2,500, is about three miles from the summit.

"I'm not too anxious about it because I've lived here so long and I've seen it go through lots of different episodes", Hughes said. "It's one of the best ways we can "see" what's going on".

People should also be cautious around the water: once lava interacts with saltwater, it produces hydrochloric acid, which is toxic.

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