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Hawaii residents near volcano deal with falling ash, toxic gas, fears of the 'big one'

As if the catastrophic, home-devouring lava weren't bad enough, now residents have to worry about choking on sulfur d...

Posted: May 15, 2018 11:42 PM
Updated: May 15, 2018 11:42 PM

As if the catastrophic, home-devouring lava weren't bad enough, now residents have to worry about choking on sulfur dioxide.

Dangerous levels of the toxic gas are rising from some fissures, or cracks in the ground caused by the volcano, Hawaii County officials said.

"Severe conditions may exist such as choking and inability to breathe," the county's civil defense agency said. "This is a serious situation that affects the entire exposed population."

Officials warned residents to leave the area and get medical attention if they're affected by the gas.

Since the Kilauea volcano erupted May 3, it's been one nightmare after another for residents in the southeast part of the Big Island.

'It sounded like hammers in the dryer'

At least 19 fissures have cracked open since Kilauea volcano erupted, purging lava and sulfur dioxide from deep underground.

Fissure 17 is the most active, shooting lava like a fountain and "sending spatter more than 100 feet into the air," the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.

CNN's Stephanie Elam said her heart started pounding as she approached one fissure.

"It sounded like hammers in the dryer," she said. "The molten rock was such a deep vibrant orange that it looked technically altered. When the sulfur dioxide hit my lungs once, it took my breath away."

The Hawaii State Department of Health is asking the general public to avoid any area with fissures because the gases emitted require special cartridge respirators.

Nina Bersamina heeded warnings to evacuate, saying residents are at the mercy of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.

"When you move to this volcano, or move to this island, you move into her house," Bersamina said.

Hawaii residents scramble for masks that won't actually help them

More eruptions could follow

Scorching lava has already swallowed dozens of homes and vehicles. So far, at least 37 structures have been destroyed, and counting.

In addition to the lava and toxic gases, now there are concerns about phreatic eruptions.

Those are steam-driven explosions that occur when water beneath the ground or on the surface is heated by magma, lava, hot rocks, or new volcanic deposits, the US Geological Survey says. The intense heat may cause that water to boil and result in eruptions.

The lava lake in the crater has been dropping since May 2, which increases the chances for a phreatic explosion.

USGS officials said a phreatic eruption could happen at Halemaumau crater at the top of the Kilauea volcano. And it could send ash plumes as far as 12 miles from the summit crater, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.

But it will be difficult to warn residents who may be in the path of such an eruption.

Janet Babb, a geologist from the volcano observatory, said phreatic eruptions are "notoriously hard to forecast, and can occur with little or no warning."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
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Pike300195
Scott293870
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Newton229652
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Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
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Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
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