PAHOA, Hawaii. On Friday, the national park surrounding the Kilauea of Hawaii was off limits to visitors for fear that the volcano would explode in the next few days and throw ashes and rocks the size of refrigerators into the air.
“If it goes up, it will go down,” said Charles Mandeville, volcanic risk coordinator for the US Geological Survey. “You do not want to be under anything that weighs 10 tons when it comes out at 120 mph (193 kph).”
An explosive eruption could also land planes at one of Big Island’s two main airports and release steam and toxic sulfur fumes.
The volcano has been sputtering lava for a week, forcing some 2,000 people to evacuate, destroying two dozen houses and threatening a geothermal plant. Scientists are now warning of the possibility of a violent eruption caused by trapped vapor.The volcano park closed indefinitely on Thursday night due to the risks.
“We know that the volcano is capable of doing this,” said Mandeville, citing similar explosions in Kilauea in 1925, 1790 and four other times in the last thousands of years. “We know it’s a different possibility.”
The danger zone of an explosion of this type could extend to about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the summit, land that all falls within the national park, said Mandeville. No one lives in the immediate area of the summit.
He did not estimate the likelihood of such an explosion, but said the internal volcanic conditions are changing in a way that could cause an explosion in about a week.
Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures, including 26 homes, since May 3, when it began releasing lava from the vents about 25 miles east of the summit crater. Fifteen vents now extend through the neighborhoods of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens.
Governor David Ige said crews at a geothermal power plant near the lava outbreak accelerated the disposal of stored flammable fuel as a precautionary measure. The Puna Geothermal Venture plant had approximately 50,000 gallons (189,270 liters) of pentane. It was eliminated on early Thursday.
Barbara Lozano, who lives less than a mile from the plant, said she would have thought twice before buying her property if she had known the risks.
“Why did they allow us to buy residential properties, knowing that it was a dangerous situation? Why did they allow people to build around them?” She asked.
Avani Love, 29, moved to the Big Island a month ago from Maui with her four children. They evacuated their house on May 3 and discovered that it was destroyed when a family member returned to get some belongings.
She said she was sad to lose her home, but she also felt a sense of renewal brought about by Pele, the goddess of the Hawaiian volcano. She said the eruption was the way Pele corrected the overpopulation of the island.
“They all come here,” he said. “When you have that, it’s the way Pele cleans the house and restores the place.” There is beauty and also darkness. ”
If the volcano blows its pile, communities about 3 kilometers away could be covered with rocks the size of a pea or dusted with non-toxic ash, said Tina Neal, a scientist in charge of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.
The small city of Volcano, Hawaii, with a population of 2,500, is about 3 miles (4.8 km) from the summit.
Janet Coney, manager of the Kilauea Lodge office, an inn and restaurant, said authorities told their employees that they probably would not have to worry about the rocks falling on them, but that they might experience ash fall.
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