Hawaii lava flow burns onlooker
Hawaiian residents who ignore evacuation orders 'putting their lives at risk'
Hawaii reported its first serious injury from the Kilauea volcano eruption on Saturday as a stream of lava threatened to block a key Hawaii highway that serves as an escape route for coastal residents.
In the weeks since Hawaii's Kilauea volcano began erupting, dozens of homes have burned from oozing lava, people have fled their homes and plumes of steam from the summit have shot skyward, prompting officials to distribute face masks to protect against ash particles.
Lava flows have grown more vigorous in recent days and there's concern more homes may burn and more evacuations may be ordered. Still, scientists can't say whether lava flows from nearly two dozen fissures will continue to advance, or stop.
"We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption," said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. "We're kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty."
In addition to ash fallout from explosions and the threat of lava crossing main highways, officials warned of another hazard Saturday as a flow advanced southeast to the ocean: Laze.
"Laze is when hot lava hits the ocean sending hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles in the air," the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency said in an update to the public.
The area affected by lava and ash is small compared to the Big Island, which is about10,360 square kilometers. Most of the island and the rest of the Hawaiian chain is unaffected by the volcanic activity on Kilauea.
State and local officials have been reminding tourists that flights in and out of the entire state, including the Big Island, have not been impacted. Even on the Big Island, most tourist activities are still available and businesses are open.
But 2000 residents living near the lava flows have been issued evacuation orders, with those remaining in their homes doing so at their peril.
On Saturday a homeowner sitting on a third floor balcony watching a lava flow was badly burned by lava splatter.
"It hit him on the shin and shattered everything there down on his leg," said Janet Snyder, a spokesperson for the Office of the Mayor, County of Hawaii, adding that lava spatters "can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces of spatter can kill."
A handful of people were trapped when a flow crossed a road Friday. Some had to be airlifted to safety.
"They shouldn't be in that area. We told them they will be locked in," said County Managing Director Wil Okabe. "It's more serious now. They're putting their lives at risk."
As magma destroyed four more homes, molten rock from two huge cracks merged into a single stream, threatening to block escape routes. It was expected to hit Highway 137 overnight if it kept up its rate and direction of flow, the County of Hawaii's Civil Defense Agency said.
Authorities are trying to open up a road that was blocked by lava in 2014 to serve as an alternative escape route should Highway 137 or another exit route, Highway 130, be blocked, Jessica Ferracane of the National Park Service told reporters.
The park service is working to bulldoze almost a mile of hardened lava out of the way on nearby Highway 11, which has been impassable, she added.
The Hawaii National Guard has warned of mandatory evacuations if more roads become blocked.
For weeks, geologists have warned that hotter, fresher magma from Kilauea's summit would run underground and emerge some 40 kilometres east in the lower Puna district, where older, cooler lava has already destroyed 44 homes and other structures.
"Summit magma has arrived," US Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall said on a conference call with reporters.
"There is much more stuff coming out of the ground and its going to produce flows that will move much further away."
Fountains of bright orange lava were seen spouting at least six metres high, and spewing rivers of molten rock on Saturday.
Carolyn Pearcheta, operational geologist at the Hawaii Volcano Authority, told reporters that hotter and more viscous lava could be on the way, with fountains spurting as high as 600 feet, as seen in a 1955 eruption.
"We've seen the clearing out of the system," she said. "We call that the 'throat clearing' phase."
At the volcano's summit, another large explosive eruption occurred around midnight, sending up a nearly 3.2 kilometre ash plume, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. There was another explosion around 4 pm local time, according to a Reuters reporter.
Scientists expect a series of eruptions from Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, that could spread ash and volcanic smog across the Big Island, the southernmost of the Hawaiian archipelago.
That could pose a hazard to aircraft if it blows into their routes at around 9,000 metres.
Updated: May 20, 2018 12:20 PM