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An explosive eruption from the Kilauea volcano on Thursday morning sent an ash plume soaring 30,000 feet into the air. Officials are warning that ash emissions will cover a large part of the Big Island and they advise that if you are in the fallout zone to shelter in place. Hawaii Volcano Observatory officials confirmed that there was an explosive eruption at around 4:15 a.m., local time. Hawaii County Civil Defense officials say wind could carry the ash plume as far as Hilo. The explosive eruption happened a day after at least 125 shallow quakes rattled Kilauea’s summit and neighboring communities, causing minor damage to roads and buildings amid growing concerns about that violent, steam-driven eruption at Halemaumau Crater.

Kilauea Volcano Quakes

Geologists say the quakes are being caused by the ongoing deflation at the summit and as lava levels continue to decline. As of Wednesday afternoon, the floor of the Kilauea caldera has dropped about 3 feet.

The strongest quake in the area was a magnitude 4.4, and dozens more have been upwards of magnitude 3. Because the tremors are shallow, they cause greater shaking — and increase the potential for damage.

Those at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and nearby residents are reporting frequent shaking, and the quakes caused several large cracks on Highway 11 along with structural damage to buildings at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Ballistic Rocks

Also on Wednesday, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said rocks up to 2 feet wide were hurled from the crater to a parking lot hundreds of yards away.

The “ballistic” rocks “reflect the most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity. Additional such explosions are expected and could be more powerful,” officials said.

Ashfall Dangers

Scientists have warned that eruptions at the summit could send heavy ashfall across communities near the summit and toss boulders “the size of cows” as far as a half a mile. Given the threat, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains closed, and civil defense officials are urging those who live near the crater to remain vigilant.

The news comes amid worsening air quality conditions on the Big Island, and as civil defense authorities continue to respond to Kilauea’s ongoing eruptions in lower Puna, where thousands of people remain under mandatory evacuation orders. Forecasters are warning residents that ashfall remains a threat, especially across the Ka’u District. Thick vog (volcanic haze) is also impacting parts of the island. Authorities said the thicker vog posed no immediate threat, but that officials would continue to monitor the situation.

Air Quality “Red”

And more than 20 miles away in lower Puna, along Kilauea’s east rift zone, hazardous fumes and lava are continuing to pour from active fissures. In the southeast area of the Lanipuna Gardens subdivision and surrounding farm lots, the air quality level remains at condition “red,” which means anyone in the area is in immediate danger. Mandatory evacuation orders remain in place for communities along with neighboring Leilani Estates.

More Explosions and Eruptions?

On Tuesday, thick, dark columns of ash poured from Halemaumau Crater, extending up to 12,000 feet above sea level and dropping ash as far as 18 miles downwind. Scientists have been warning residents for days about the threat of explosive, steam-induced eruptions at the summit crater.

Researchers don’t know when the explosive activity will occur, how large the explosions could be or how long they’d last. But they warn that as fissures continue to open in Puna and lava travels downslope toward the sea, the chance for “explosive eruptions” at Halemaumau Crater on the summit of the volcano will continue to rise.

More Falling Rock?

“If you’re near the crater within a half a mile or so [of the explosion], then you would be subject to a bombardment by ballistic blocks weighing as much as 10 or 12 tons,” said Don Swanson, of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told Hawaii News Now. “If you’re within several miles of the summit of the volcano, of the lava lake, then you would be subject to falls of marble sized rocks, ash, finer grain material. and if you’re beyond that say you’re 10 miles, 15, 20 downwind, you could experience fine ash floating from the sky like snow.”

Surviving the Ashfall

The possibility of explosive eruptions at Kilauea’s summit crater is prompting civil defense officials to warn residents about how to handle ashfall. If ashfall is reported in your area, here’s what to do, according to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency:

  • Close doors and windows.
  • Place damp towels at door thresholds and other draft sources.
  • Protect sensitive electronics and do not uncover until the environment is totally ash-free.
  • Disconnect drainpipes and downspouts from gutters to stop drains clogging, but allowing ash and water to empty from gutters onto the ground.
  • If you use a rainwater collection system for your water supply, disconnect the tank prior to ash falling.
  • If you have chronic bronchitis, emphysema or asthma, stay inside and avoid unnecessary exposure to the ash.
  • Ensure livestock have clean food and water.
  • If you have children, know your school’s emergency plan and have indoor games and activities ready.

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