Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has erupted and sent ash spewing 30,000 feet into the sky before raining down on a nearby town, with residents being warned to shelter in place as the dusty plume engulfs the island.
The powerful, steam-driven explosion occurred on Thursday at 4.17am and started spewing large amounts of volcanic ash and smoke from the crater on Hawaii’s Big Island that shot higher than the peak of Mount Everest.
Geologists have warned that the volcano could become even more violent, with increasing ash production and the potential that future blasts could hurl boulders from the summit.
The wind could carry the ash plume as far as Hilo, the Big Island’s largest city and major tourism center, the County of Hawaii Civil Defense warned in an alert.
An explosive eruption from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Thursday sent ash spewing 30,000 feet into the sky (above), with residents now being warned to shelter in place
The explosion occurred just before dawn on Thursday and was expected to spew large amounts of volcanic ash and smoke (above) from Kilauea’s crater on Hawaii’s Big Island
This image is from a research camera mounted in the observation tower at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and shows the plume of smoke coming out of the crater
‘Protect yourself from ash fallout,’ the warning alert said. ‘The resulting ash plume will cover the surrounding area.
‘You should shelter in place if you are in the path of the ash plume. Driving conditions may be dangerous so if you are driving pull off the road and wait until visibility improves.’
USGS geologists and staff were evacuated from the summit shortly before the blast and a webcam showed a gray plume of ash and chunks of magma known as pyroclasts that showered the volcano’s slopes.
An aviation red alert was also issued due to risks that ash could be carried into aircraft routes and damage jet engines.
The eruption could not only enshroud large areas of the Big Island in volcanic ash and smog but other Hawaiian Islands and potentially distant areas if the plume reaches up into the stratosphere and ash is carried by winds.
National Guard troops donned gas masks to protect themselves from toxic sulfur dioxide gas at the intersection of highways 130 and 132, the main exit routes from the village of Pahoa, 25 miles east of the volcano, where many of the ground fissures have erupted.
Toby Hazel, who lives in Pahoa near the mountain, said she heard ‘a lot of booming sounds’ on Thursday after days of earthquakes.
‘It’s just time to go – it really, really is,’ she said, preparing to leave town. ‘I feel so sorry for the people who don’t go, because they don’t have the money, or don’t want to go to a shelter and leave their houses.’
Epic Lava tour operator John Tarson said the ash plume looked different than others he has witnessed because of its sheer height.
‘What I noticed is the plume was just rising straight into the air, and it was not tipping in any direction,’ he said. ‘We’ve been expecting this, and a lot of people are going to see it and get excited and scared.’
This webcam image shows large amounts of volcanic ash and smoke from Kilauea’s crater covering part of Hawaii’s Big Island
Residents covered their faces and National Guard troops donned gas masks on Thursday to protect themselves from toxic sulfur dioxide gas following the volcanic eruption
A shelter in place warning has been issued after Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted from its summit on Thursday
It comes after more than a dozen fissures recently opened miles to the east of the crater and spewed lava into neighborhoods. Pictured above in fissure 17 on Thursday, which is still active
Geologists inspect cracks in the road on Thursday that continue to widen due to the underlying magma
Lava illuminates volcanic gases from the Kilauea volcano at fissure 13 on Hawaii’s Big Island on Wednesday
The explosion came a day after ‘ballistic blocks’ the size of microwave ovens started shooting from the volcano in what experts had predicted was the start of eruption.
The USGS predicted that steam-driven blasts could send a massive ash plume out of the crater and hurl 10-12 ton boulders up to hal