Hawaii's Ordeal Worsens: Lava Torrents, Flying Rocks, Acidic Air
PAHOA, HAWAII — May 22, 2018
A volcano that is oozing, spewing and exploding on Hawaii’s Big Island has gotten more hazardous in recent days, with rivers of molten rock flowing into the ocean and flying lava causing the first major injury.
The Kilauea volcano began erupting more than two weeks ago and has now burned dozens of homes, forced people to flee and shot up plumes of steam from its summit that led officials to distribute face masks to protect against the ash particles.
Lava flows have grown more vigorous in past days, spattering molten rock that hit a man in the leg.
He was outside his home Saturday in the remote, rural region affected by the volcano when the lava “hit him on the shin, and shattered everything from there down on his leg,” Janet Snyder, Hawaii County mayor’s spokeswoman, told the Hawaii News Now TV station.
Lava that’s flying through the air from cracks in the Earth can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces can be lethal, officials said.
The injury came the same day lava streamed across a highway and flowed into the ocean. The phenomenon sends hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air and can lead to lung damage, and eye and skin irritation, another danger for residents as the plume can shift with the wind, the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency said.
The highway has been shut down in some spots, and residents in the area have been evacuated.
With problems compounding, scientists can’t say whether lava flows from the nearly two dozen fissures will keep advancing or stop. “We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption,” said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. “We’re kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty.”
The area affected by lava and ash is small compared with the Big Island, which is about 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometers). The volcano has spared most of the island and the rest of the Hawaiian chain.