The Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island erupted Sunday night following a series of earthquakes, authorities said.
The U.S. Geological Survey and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park urged residents to stay indoors, saying the situation was “rapidly evolving.” Officials also raised Kilauea’s volcano alert to “Warning” level and its aviation colour code to red.
Stunning images posted by the two agencies on social media showed a massive steam and gas plume above the crater.
Happening now: a new eruption of Kīlauea inside Halemaʻumaʻu
— Hawaii Volcanoes NPS (@Volcanoes_NPS) December 21, 2020
All the water evaporated out of the lake and a steam cloud shot up about 30,000 feet (9 kilometres) into the atmosphere. The water was the first-ever recorded in the summit crater of the Kilauea volcano. In 2019, after a week of questions about a mysterious green patch at the bottom of the volcano’s crater, researchers confirmed the presence of water. The lake had continued to fill since then.
The eruption began late Sunday within the volcano’s caldera, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The crater, named Halemaumau, is located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and was home to a longstanding lava lake that was present for years before a 2018 eruption caused it to drain.
It was still unclear on Monday if the latest eruption would force a massive evacuation, but authorities urged “all communities” on or near Kilauea’s summit and rift zones to “be prepared.” The National Weather Service in Honolulu also warned residents over the Kau district and nearby areas about fallen ash from the volcano.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said in a telephone interview that the volcanic activity is a risk to people in the park and that caution is needed.
“It’s pretty spectacular this morning,“ she said, “but there are high amounts of hazardous sulfur dioxide gas and particulates and those are billowing out of the crater right now and those present a danger to everyone, especially people with heart or respiratory problems, infants, young children, and pregnant women.” She also said cars are lining up at the park entrance to get a glimpse of the lava. “There is a lot of cars waiting on Crater Rim Drive to get out to Kilauea overlook. People should expect long waits for parking places,” she said.
By 1 AM, USGS officials told Hawaii News Now that there were reported lava fountains shooting about 165 feet (50 meters) into the sky.
David Phillips, a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokesman, said the agency was monitoring the “rapidly evolving” situation. “We will send out further notifications on Kilauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes as we observe changes,” he said.
A magnitude 4.4 earthquake hit about an hour after the volcano began erupting. The USGS said it received more than 500 reports of people who felt the earthquake but significant damage to buildings or structures was not expected.
Officials had observed a significant increase in the rate of earthquakes in the area since at least September. Another “notable increase” was detected the last week and was attributed to “magmatic activity,” according to USGS.
Kilauea is one most active volcanoes in the world. The last major eruption was in 2018 when rivers of molten rock obliterated more than 700 homes, spewing enough lava to fill 320,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools and forced thousands of residents to evacuate.
An area more than half the size of Manhattan was buried in up to 80 feet (24 meters) of now-hardened lava. The lava flowed over the course of four months.
The 2018 eruption occurred along a rift zone on the volcano’s flank where many residential neighbourhoods had been developed. Last night’s eruption was contained to the summit caldera within the national park.
The volcano had not erupted since 2018 but before then had active lava flows for more than three decades. Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes on earth.