After two weeks of eruptions, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano became more dangerous over the weekend.
Lava from the volcanic eruption oozed out to the ocean on Saturday, creating something called “laze,” a lava-haze hybrid. As the lava combines with ocean water, it forms a steam cloud laced with hydrochloric acid and fine particles of glass. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) calls laze a "hot, corrosive, gas mixture” that can create "hazy and noxious conditions” and warned people to stay away from the coastline where the cloud lingers.
A steam plume rises as lava (C) enters the Pacific Ocean, after flowing to the water from a Kilauea volcano fissure, on Hawaii's Big Island Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images Steam plumes rise as lava enters the Pacific Ocean, after flowing to the water from a Kilauea volcano fissure, on Hawaii's Big Island Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
County officials have distributed breathing masks and warned residents about air quality near the laze cloud (which is mostly offshore). Sulfur dioxide levels have tripled in recent weeks because of the eruptions.
Is it safe to travel to Hawaii now?
The National Park Service has closed most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park “due to ongoing seismic activity, summit deflation, and a possible steam explosion.” Tourism officials maintain that most of Big Island is still safe to visit and remains unaffected by the explosion. However, travelers are urged to avoid the island’s Puna region.
The Kilauea volcano also caused its first injury on Sunday when molten lava hit a man outside his home. The rock “hit him on the shin and shattered everything from there down on his leg," Janet Snyder, spokesperson for the Hawaii County mayor, told Hawaii News Now.
Scientists are unsure how long the eruption will last. Kilauea erupted at least twice over the weekend.
"At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles very near the vent," the USGS wrote in an update. "Communities downwind should be prepared for ashfall as long as this activity continues."
Steam and volcanic gases rise as lava enters the Pacific Ocean, after flowing to the water from a Kilauea volcano fissure, on Hawaii's Big Island on May 20, 2018 Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Since its eruption two weeks ago, the volcano has caused thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Over the past few days, lava flow has picked up speed and intensity. At least 23 fissures from the volcano have opened so far and 40 homes buildings have been burned by the lava.