Kilauea could blow its top soon, hurl rocks and ash

A geologist walks along a road near the town of Pahoa Hawaii

A geologist walks along a road near the town of Pahoa Hawaii

Scientists say the explosive eruption could occur even as the volcano continues to splatter and ooze lava out of its eastern flank into a residential area.

But as the eruption progresses, "other areas of the lower East Rift Zone may also be at risk", the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in its latest bulletin.

A new explosion could send ash, steam, sulfur dioxide, and boulders spewing from the summit crater in all directions.

The volcano has been spluttering lava for more than a week and has forced around 2,000 people from their homes and destroyed 36 structures, including 26 homes.

Workers have removed flammable pentane from a nearby geothermal plant.

He says it would be "very hazardous" if a volcanic vent were to open under the facility where the fuel is stored.

The Puna Geothermal Venture is owned by Nevada company Ormat Technologies. Distant communities such as Hilo, about 30 miles away, could get a dusting of ash. "If that happens, we're into a whole different situation", said U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Janet Babb.

A similar 1924 explosion threw pulverized rock, ash and steam as high as 5.4 miles into the sky, for a couple of weeks.

What followed was a flurry of earthquakes as huge volumes of magma - the term for lava beneath the surface - drained back through deep-underground passages that carried the molten rock far downslope.

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What could happen is not an eruption of volcanic gases but mostly trapped steam from flash-heated groundwater released like in a kitchen pressure cooker, with rocks, said volcanologist Janine Krippner of Concord University in West Virginia.

Water and hot rocks and magma are not a good combination - they create steam, and steam causes explosions.

"We suspect it's a rapid process".

"We're hoping that the park where we do most of the field work will still be accessible for our work, although we're not really working in areas that are unsafe". Now there's increased activity in the summit's Halemaumau crater.

But most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will be closed Friday until further notice, because officials are anxious one of those steam-driven explosions could happen, accompanied by an ash fall.

"It seems pretty safe to me right now but they'd know best", said Cindy Woodd, who was visiting from British Columbia, Canada.

"We know what people are going through in Leilani Estates. Life and safety is what's most important". Authorities also recently ordered 2,000 residents to leave their homes in the Puna district, however, some residents have opted to stay behind to watch over their property and prevent their homes from being looted.

"Because of the unexpected darkness during daylight hours ... and the sometimes strong smell of sulfur during an ashfall, many people describe the experience as eerie and frightening, disorienting and confusing, or awful", the USGS says.

Residents are now allowed to check out their homes during an 11-hour period during the day, but officials say they must be prepared to flee at a moment's notice.

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