Hawaii volcano: What's the worst-case scenario for Kilauea?

Posted May 16, 2018

Astronauts from inside the International Space Station have viewed the massive eruption of the Kilauea Volcano and witnessed the ongoing volcanic eruption which is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lava has destroyed more than 40 structures, including two dozen homes.

Since Kilauea began erupting on May 3, almost 2,000 people have been ordered to evacuate as 18 giant fissures ripped through the area, including two new ones that opened on Sunday with ear-piercing screeches that sent lava and rocks flying.

Officials on the Big Island of Hawaii say some vents formed by Kilauea volcano are releasing such high levels of sulfur dioxide that the gas poses an immediate danger to anyone nearby.

The 20th fissure cracked open in the Lanipuna Gardens subdivision, the agency confirmed in a Facebook post. The industry grew the fastest on the Big Island a year ago compared to other islands in the archipelago, pulling in about $2.5 billion in visitor spending.

Fountains of magma spouted "lava bombs" over 100 feet (30 meters) into the air and a narrow flow had travelled just under a mile (1.6 km) east-southeast by 6.30 a.m. (12.30 p.m. EDT), moving slowly towards the coast some two miles (3.2 km) away, the Observatory said. Board executive director Ross Birch says this is the "first leak we're seeing out of the bucket". After the fissure became active enough to cause concern, officials ordered everyone in the area to evacuate and warned volcanic activity across the island was extremely unpredictable at that moment.

People nixing vacations to the Big Island have cost the tourism industry millions of dollars as the top attraction keeps spewing lava. No homes or roadways are threatened by this flow.

The geophysicist also acknowledged the possibility of large explosions if falling rocks trap steam rising from Kilauea.

"The key to remember for Kilauea is that most of the eruptions, because they are lava flows, are hazardous to property and infrastructure but not particularly risky to people as they can be evacuated", he added.

The agency says one "unidentified structure" was destroyed by the new vent, bringing the total number of homes and other buildings lost to lava to almost 40.

There are now 18 open fissures on Kilauea and lava has scorched more than 117 acres.