Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
Medicine | By Rogelio Lindsey

Hawaii issues 'red air' alert for areas near Kilauea volcano

Hawaii issues 'red air' alert for areas near Kilauea volcano

Toxic sulphur dioxide began to spew from Kilauea volocano on Big Island, Hawaii, adding to the hazards for residents whose escape is already threatened by lava flows.

A 20th fissure opened on the volcano's side earlier in the week, the 300m-long crack releasing more lava and gas, and sending a plume of ash and smoke as high as 12,000ft. The danger could be bigger than just lava.

Satellite imagery and analytics firm DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company, directed its cameras over the verdant, green landscape of Leilani Estates as it appeared about a year ago, on May 24, 2017.

Hawaii County Civil defense said all 1,900 residents of the Leilani Estates and Laipuna Garden areas have been evacuated.

Dozens of homes and swathes of farmland in that area have been destroyed.

On Monday, the Hawaii State Department of Health warned residents in Lanipuna Gardens of unsafe levels of sulfur dioxide gas.

In addition to the threat of gas and fissures, there are concerns about what's known as phreatic eruptions. The intense heat may cause water to boil and result in eruptions.

Officials on Hawaii's Big Island have issued a Condition Red alert warning residents of risky levels of sulfur dioxide being released into the air after a new fissure opened.

The lava lake in the crater has been dropping since May 2, which increases the chances for a phreatic explosion.

USGS officials have been saying such an explosive eruption is possible at Halemaumau crater at the top of the Kilauea volcano.

Ash emission from the Kilauea summit vent will likely be variable with periods of increased and decreased intensity, scientists say.

Ashfall has been reported in the community of Pahala, at locations along Highway 11 from Pahala to Volcano, and in the Ka'u Desert section of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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