'Ballistic blocks' shot from Hawaii volcano could mark onset of explosive eruptions

PHOTO: Reuters

PAHOA, HAWAII - "Ballistic blocks" the size of microwave ovens shot from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on Wednesday (May 16) in what may be the start of explosive eruptions that could spew huge ash plumes and hurl smaller rocks for kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.

Such eruptions, last seen nearly a century ago, have been a looming threat since Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupted nearly two weeks ago.

The explosive, steam-driven eruptions could drive a 6,100-metre ash plume out of the crater, hurl boulders the size of small cars up to 800 metres and scatter smaller rocks over 19km, the USGS has warned.

This type of eruption has the potential to carpet the Big Island in much thicker ashfalls than those up to now and possibly spread ash and volcanic smog across the Hawaiian islands and farther afield if it enters the stratosphere.

"This morning, dense ballistic blocks up to 60cm across were found in the parking lot a few hundred metres from Halemaumau (Kilauea's crater)," the USGS said in a statement.

"These reflect the most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity."

The USGS cautioned that "additional such explosions are expected and could be more powerful".

A 4.2-magnitude earthquake at the volcano at 8.36am prompted authorities to issue an alert reassuring rattled Big Island residents that there was no risk of a tsunami from the volcanic activity.

Smog from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano drifted north up the island chain after communities south of its summit were warned of up to a 0.6cm of ashfall as the nearly two-week eruption intensified.

Explosions in Kilauea's crater sparked an aviation red alert due to risks ash could blow into aircraft routes and damage jet engines.

There was no effect on air carrier operations to Hawaii on Wednesday, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said in an e-mail.

"The Big Island is going to have a lot of vog today and maybe Maui," National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Foster said.

Ash is a new hazard for Hawaii's Big Island, already grappling with volcanic gas and lava that has destroyed 37 homes and other structures and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 residents from communities in the south-east Puna district.

Lava has burst from 21 giant ground cracks or fissures and torn through housing developments and farmland, threatening two highways that are exit routes for coastal areas.

Several fissures shot lava into the air on Wednesday, but one flow had not advanced any further toward coastal Highway 137, which remains around 1.6km distant, County of Hawaii Civil Defence said in a statement.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported from the eruption.

Thousands of Hawaiians forced to flee Kilauea volcano eruptions

  • Hawaiians forced to flee repeated eruptions of the Kilauea volcano, which has already destroyed 26 homes as it spews rivers of lava and fountains of toxic gases into residential areas,
  • were allowed to make a quick visits home on Sunday (May 6) to rescue pets, medication and other essentials.
  • More lava fissures and vents opened overnight in the Leilani Estates area, where lava leapt up to 70 metres into the air, but no new explosions were reported on Sunday from Kilauea, the state's most active volcano.
  • So far, no fatalities or major injuries have been reported from the volcano, which began erupting on Thursday, but at least 26 homes have been destroyed, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defence Agency.
  • The south-east corner of the island was rocked by a powerful 6.9-magnitude earthquake on the volcano's south flank on Friday, the strongest tremor since 1975, and more earthquakes and eruptions were forecast, perhaps for months to come.
  • Although no significant lava flows have yet formed, additional outbreaks of lava, which can reach temperatures of about 1,150 degrees Celsius, were expected.
  • A line of vechicles head for the intersection of Pahoa and Kapoho Roads as evacuees are allowed to return to their Leilani Estates homes to gather belongings
  • Carolyn McNamara, 70, talks with her neighbour, Paul Campbell, 68, at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their homes
  • Evacuee Stacy Welch checks her phone using an earthquake monitoring app on Hawaii's Big Island
  • Maurice Messina from the Parks and Recreation Department receives supplies donated to evacuees by local residents at te Pahoa Community Center in Pahoa
  • Ron McLain, 58, watches as his husband, Michael Berry, 68, offers water to their dog at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their hom
  • A volunteer delivers pet supplies to an evacuation center in Pahoa
  • Dr. Tim Richards, a longtime veterinarian on the island and County Councilman checks on evacuee Andrew Linne's dog Scotty at the Pahoa Community Center in Pahoa
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