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3 lava flows now reaching ocean off Hawaii

/ 10:00 AM May 25, 2018

This photo from the United States Geological Survey’s video shows blue burning flames of methane gas erupting through cracks on Kahukai Street in the Leilani Estates neighborhood of Pahoa on the island of Hawaii during the overnight hours of Wednesday, May 23, 2018. When lava buries plants and shrubs, methane gas is produced as a byproduct of burning vegetation. Methane gas can seep into subsurface voids and explode when heated, emerging from cracks in the ground several feet away from the lava. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

HONOLULU — Three lava flows from an erupting volcano are now flowing into the ocean off Hawaii’s Big Island.

Hawaii County officials said the third flow started pouring into the sea on Thursday. Lava is spewing from a fissure in a rural community that was feeding the two other flows that are reaching the waves.

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Scientists said the Kilauea volcano was not letting up on its three weeks of wild activity. Besides the airborne shards of glass and acid formed when lava hits seawater, explosions at the summit were shooting up plumes of ash.

Ash is drifting onto communities downwind.

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Most of Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park has been closed for two weeks over concerns about rocks that fall during the explosive eruptions.

The United States Marine Corps is deploying two large transport helicopters to Hawaii’s Big Island in case a volcanic eruption forces large numbers of people to evacuate.

Hawaii officials have said they may need to carry out a mass evacuation if lava crosses key highways and isolates communities in the mostly rural part of the island where the Kilauea volcano is erupting.

A blocked highway would cut people off from their only route to grocery stores, schools, and hospitals.

The Marine Corps said on Thursday that it has sent two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from a base near Honolulu to help. Each helicopter can carry 50 passengers.

Hawaii Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara said the helicopters will allow an evacuation to be completed within a few hours.

Scientists said on Thursday that ash emissions from Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island reached 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) but quickly dispersed.

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The ash is settling in small communities that are downwind, they explained, while trade winds were blowing the ash to the southwest.

Volcanic gas emissions at the summit remain high, they also said, and that high levels increase the potential for volcanic smog called “vog.”

Emissions were also high at fissures that began opening up earlier this month in communities about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the summit.

Scientists in Hawaii have also captured rare images of blue methane flames burning from cracks in the pavement as Kilauea volcano gushes lava in the background.

The photos and video offer a look at a new dimension in the volcano’s weeks-long eruption.

The volcano produces methane when hot lava buries and burns plants and trees. The gas flows through the ground and up through existing cracks.

US Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Jim Kauahikaua (COW-ah-hee-COW-ah) told reporters it was just the second time he has ever seen blue flames during an eruption. He said it was dramatic and eerie.

The methane can seep through cracks several feet away from the lava.

Another USGS scientist Wendy Stovall said the methane can cause explosions when it’s ignited while trapped underground. Blasts can toss rocks several feet.        /kga

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TAGS: Big Island, Eruption, Hawaii, Kilauea, Ocean, Volcano
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