Hawaii volcano could blow its top soon, hurl rocks and ash

The Ecuadorian volcano Tungurahua spews lava and ash in Cahuaji about 80 miles south of Quito in February 2016. Authorities raised the alert level from yellow to orange after the volcano increased its activity and projected a column of ash 3 miles high

Geologists expect the hard-hit Leilani Estates area in the southeastern Puna district to be victim of more lava outbreaks. "It's an irritant, a nuisance, especially if it goes on for many weeks", said Tina Neal, HVO scientist-in-charge.

During an evening meeting with community members, an official with the United States Geological Survey's Hawaii Volcano Observatory said that while no new fissures have opened during the last 24 hours, there has been "quite a bit" of ground cracking over the last day and that they were releasing steam.

The ongoing surge in volcanic activity on Hawaii's Big Island, reports today's Washington Post, soon could cause a massive explosion from a volcano's summit, scientists and Hawaii officials warned Wednesday.

A pause in active eruption of spatter and lava along Kīlauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone continued through the night. Smigelski-Theiss says she's anxious potential flight disruptions would strand them on the island.

"Only relief aircraft operations under direction of national park service are authorized in the airspace", it said. "We know it is a distinct possibility". The volcano's internal plumbing could still prevent an explosion.

Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, could "burst out in an explosion" within days, according to the US Geological Society. Fifteen of the vents are now spread through the Leilani Estates and neighboring Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which includes the crater and surrounding region, announced Wednesday that it will close Friday in anticipation of the possible explosive event.

"I'm grateful for the quick approval of my request for a presidential disaster declaration", Gov. David Ige said, in a news release.

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As fissures opened up on Kilauea's slopes, geologists also watched as levels of the Halema'uma'u lava lake at the volcano's summit dropped nearly 1,000 feet.

According to a USGS statement released nearly two hours after, the explosion was caused by a rock falling into the lava lake.

It would be "very, very hazardous" if a volcanic vent opened under the facility where the fuel is stored, the governor said.

"We know the volcano is capable of doing this", Mandeville said, citing similar explosions at Kilauea in 1925, 1790 and four other times over the last few thousand years. "This is three football fields going down", Mandeville said.

And now, scientists are warning that an explosive eruption may occur at the summit crater within weeks. As that magma flows from the chamber and out of the fissures on the volcano's flanks, the lava level in the center crater falls.

The fear is that it will go below the underground water table - another 1,000 feet further down - and that would trigger a chain of events that could lead to a "very violent" steam explosion, Mandeville said. From its peak on May 2 to the most recent measurement at 9 p.m. on May 6, the lava lake surface dropped a total of more than 200 meters (656 feet).

That explosion killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days. The lava lake surface is still above the water table.

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