Since the Kilauea volcano began belching lava into Hawaii’s residential areas, the fiery flow has destroyed dozens of structures and covered scores of acres on the Big Island. But authorities fear its destructive reach could ravage its power supply and some experts fear the volcano could erupt in a massive explosion, shattering the island.
The volcano has now entered a more violent phase, in which larger volumes of molten rock are oozing from the ground and travelling further than before.
Lava has now entered the Pacific Ocean and is producing laze, as it reacts with the sea water, which is potentially deadly if inhaled. Laze produces noxious clouds of acid fumes, steam and fine glass-like particles.
The Hawaii County Civil Defense agency announced that lava from nearby fissures had begun to encroach on the southern edge of one of the state’s key sources of power, the Puna Geothermal Venture.
The plant harvests hot liquid and steam from underground wells to drive turbine generators for electricity, which is then sold to the state’s largest utility. The plant provides roughly a quarter of the Big Island’s power, according to Reuters.
Another risk, besides the loss of power, rests in what might happen if the lava overcomes the state’s protective measures: “There’s a steam release, there’s many chemicals, but primarily the critical factor would be hydrogen sulfide, a very deadly gas,” Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency chief, Tom Travis, told reporters.
Kilauea has been near-constantly erupting from vents either on its summit (caldera) or on the rift zones.
The volcano is still having one of the most long-lived eruptions known on earth, which started in 1983 on the eastern rift zone and has been concentrated at the Pu’u ‘O’o vent.
Kilauea sits on the south east flank of the massive Mauna Loa shield volcano and the summit of the volcano sits just north of Big Island’s southeastern coast.
A steam explosion killed part of a Hawaiian army marching near the caldera in 1790 and in 1924 a less violent eruption enlarged Halema‘uma‘u crater to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 metres).
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