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Ash clouds from Kilauea volcano prompt red alert on Hawaii's Big Island

Officials warned residents and airplanes to stay away from part of Hawaii's Big Island after a plume of ash from the ...

Posted: May 16, 2018 2:44 PM
Updated: May 16, 2018 2:44 PM

Officials warned residents and airplanes to stay away from part of Hawaii's Big Island after a plume of ash from the Kilauea volcano rose 12,000 feet into the air.

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

The US Geological Survey issued a red alert Tuesday, which means a major eruption is imminent or underway and ash could affect air traffic

The USGS' Michelle Coombs described the situation as " very hazardous for aviation" and said her team isn't quite sure what caused Tuesday's slightly more intense ash emissions.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced that Pride of America would skip a call at Hilo on Tuesday and Kona on Wednesday. Instead, the ship will spend an extra day on the island of Maui.

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

These 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 USGS says. The intense heat may cause that water to boil and result in eruptions.

Gas seeping out of cracks

Besides the ash, which is not poisonous, residents have to worry about choking on sulfur dioxide.

Coombs said the gas is coming out of 21 fissures, or cracks in the ground, caused by the volcano.

Levels of the toxic gas are dangerous in some places, 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.

Lava shooting like fountains

Then there's dangerous lava. Of the 21 fissures, 17 is the longest, and has been shooting lava like a fountain and "sending spatter more than 100 feet into the air," the observatory said.

Coombs said the fissure had diminished in intensity, but officials said activity can go up just as quickly as it goes down.

Still, many of the fissures are emitting "quite a bit" of sulfur dioxide.

Two new fissures are small with not much lava coming from them, she 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 public to avoid any area with fissures because the gases emitted require special cartridge respirators.

More eruptions could follow

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

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

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

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

Janet Babb, a geologist from the Hawaii 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: 307519

Reported Deaths: 7096
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20784248
Hinds19894408
Harrison17493302
Rankin13316275
Jackson13099243
Madison9896210
Lee9859169
Jones8293160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7189237
Lowndes6265144
Lamar610784
Lafayette6028117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4770129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4420139
Warren4281118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403775
Neshoba3988176
Lincoln3871108
Hancock372185
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322781
Pike3181104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296876
Copiah293065
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284868
Prentiss275659
Marion265979
Wayne261341
Leake261173
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245982
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213373
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158634
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126323
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120141
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81923
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 519071

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754131487
Mobile37774798
Madison33868494
Tuscaloosa25283443
Montgomery23969565
Shelby23112238
Baldwin20638300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14286311
Morgan14140268
Etowah13664345
Marshall11957219
Houston10383278
Elmore9994200
Limestone9814147
Cullman9475188
St. Clair9429234
Lauderdale9218227
DeKalb8747181
Talladega8060171
Walker7092275
Jackson6755110
Autauga6727103
Blount6488135
Colbert6205130
Coffee5401112
Dale4768110
Russell428938
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia388074
Dallas3527149
Chambers3500122
Clarke346360
Marion3066100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256458
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224955
Hale218775
Butler212366
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171540
Washington164038
Macon154848
Clay149454
Crenshaw149357
Cleburne146041
Lamar139334
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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Clouds increase a bit more on Tuesday, though there will still be plenty of sunshine at times. Temperatures will remain very warm. An isolated sprinkle or shower is possible later in the day, though rain chances are much more likely into Wednesday as a cold front passes.
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