The month of May is turning out into a highly extended ordeal of fire for the residents of Hawaii’s Big Island. It began two weeks ago on the 3rd, when Kilauea Volcano began erupting on its eastern Rift Zone. This led to the recurrence now-famous Kilauea lava fountains, at times reaching up to 300 feet in height, accompanied by venting of gases. A strong earthquake the following day resulted in the opening of new fissures where lava began to pour forth. The Big Island’s Puna district was most severely affected by this volcanic episode, and it is only getting worse.
CNN reports that as of Tuesday, May 15, the US Geological Survey has issued a red alert covering the entirety of the Big Island in Hawaii, signaling that a major eruption at Kilauea is close to occurring and the outpour of volcanic ash has become a palpable risk to air traffic. That last was understandable considering the measurement of the largest ash plume from the rampaging volcano has been registered at 12,000 feet. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has projected that material from this and earlier ash plumes could now fall as far away as 12 miles from the summit crater.
Spokesperson Michelle Coombs of the USGS says her colleagues have yet to determine why Kilauea’s ash emissions escalated to such an alarming degree by Tuesday this week, but it was plain that the volcanic episode has made the airspace “very hazardous for aviation”. Aside from warning passenger and other flights off from Big Island, advisories have been issued to residents on the ground to begin evacuating away from the area, especially with the possibility of a violent phreatic eruption at one of the volcano’s top craters. Volcanic emissions are also a concern, with noxious gases from 21 recorded Kilauea-caused fissures.
That last part is a cause for concern with the Civil Defense Agency of Hawaii County, which encompasses all of Big Island. “Severe conditions may exist such as choking and inability to breathe,” they warned. “This is a serious situation that affects the entire exposed population.” Residents have advised fleeing residents to seek medical attention if they should have breathing difficulties close to the danger zone. Among the deadly gases noted to be emanating from the fissures is the fatal sulfur dioxide. In the meantime, lava flows have ruined residential areas nearby of Kilauea, with more eruptions likely to follow.
Photo courtesy of nypost.com