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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Could Bring 'Ballistic Projectiles' and Ashfall in Coming Weeks

10 May 2018

Kilauea, the US state's most active volcano, erupted on Thursday, and lava flows from fissures on its eastern flank have destroyed at least 36 homes and other buildings and caused the evacuation of about 2,000 residents.

Together with the so-called ballistic blocks, which might be thrown round 0.6 miles away, specialists are warning that the volcano might spray pebble-sized stones miles round in addition to mud close by cities with ash.

Ash and boulders could fall across a wide swath of the park and winds could carry debris across an even wider area of land.

"When all of this is over, and we digest the reams and mountains of data that we are collecting, we will know a lot more about Kilauea as a volcanic system", Christina Neal, the vulcanologist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory of the U.S. Geological Survey, told a news conference on Wednesday.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, told evacuees he has called the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to tell officials that he believes the state will need help to deal with the volcano on the Big Island.

According to Gallen, it's not rare to see these fissures during an eruption like the one on Hawaii's Big Island.

Scientists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say that if the lava column drops to the level of groundwater beneath Kīlauea Caldera, influx of water into the conduit could cause steam-driven explosions.

The Kilauea eruption last week created new volcanic vents on the ground miles east of the summit, releasing slow-moving lava and toxic gas into island communities.

There's also potential for ash, steam and sulfur dioxide emissions.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Volcanic smog, otherwise known as vog, is a vaporous mist that forms when gas and fine particles emitted from a volcano mix with moisture in the air.

The greatest chance of rain could occur Thursday and Friday, forecasters said. Dr. Elizabeth Tam, a respiratory health specialist, said these levels are extremely high and potentially fatal.

There is a forecast of more eruptions from the volcano in the near future.

According to Steven Businger, a meteorologist with the University of Hawaii, acid rain is typically not concentrated enough to have much of an effect on people. Additionally, there are short and long-term effects the rain can have. The droplets of sulfuric acid in vog have the corrosive properties of diluted battery acid, the USGS says.

In the short term, the gases in the air that cause acid rain have the largest impact on asthma sufferers and those in more high-risk groups, like the elderly.

"Why it would push magma 10 miles (16 km) down from where it was erupting is a mystery", he said. "The plants are affected by it pretty substantially in that it is an acid falling onto the plants". Fortunately, acid rain is not as risky as it sounds. The roads are having cracks due to the earthquakes and the lava is finding its way out from the cracks.

Officers found a number of people still at their residences but there were no sign of holdouts later, said Talmadge Magno, the administrator for Hawaii County Civil Defense. The lava has destroyed 36 structures.

He said the Puna Geothermal Venture plant has about 50,000 gallons of pentane on site.

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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Could Bring 'Ballistic Projectiles' and Ashfall in Coming Weeks