Lava from the erupting Hawaii Kilauea volcano lava on Hawaii’s Big Island is flowing towards the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) power plant as workers scrambled to shut it down to prevent the uncontrollable release of toxic gases.
It was the latest danger from Mount Kilauea’s eruption, which geologists say is among the worst events in a century from one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
The Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant, which provides about 25 per cent of power on the Big Island, has been closed since shortly after the eruptions began on May 3 and about 227,124 litres of flammable pentane used in the plant’s turbines have already been relocated.
Workers were trying to shut down the plant’s three wells, which at 1829 to 2438 metres underground, tap into extremely hot water and steam used to run turbines and produce electricity.
A berm was holding back lava flowing northwest towards the PGV plant and crews expected to cap two of its three wells, but were having difficulty with a third, the County of Hawaii said.
The state said last week it was pumping cold water into the wells and would cap them with iron plugs. Authorities are looking at alternative measures to kill the third well, Snyder added.
About five kilometres to the east of the plant on the coast, deadly clouds of acid and glass particles, known as ‘laze’, billowed into the sky as lava fell into the ocean from two flows blocking Highway 137, one of the main exit routes from the volcano area.
Another hazard is methane explosions as lava comes close to pockets of decaying vegetation that created the flammable gas.
Geologists say Kilauea’s eruption, which has already produced around two dozen lava-spewing cracks, has now entered a more violent phase, in which larger volumes of molten rock are streaming out of fissures and travelling further than previous flows.
At least 44 homes and other structures have been destroyed in the Leilani Estates and Laipuna Gardens area of the Puna district, and a man was seriously injured on Saturday when a plate-sized chunk of rock shot out of a fissure.
EARLIER: Video: New Danger As Kilauea’s Lava Enters Pacific Ocean – Hawai‘i County Civil Defense gave an update at 12 noon, local time, today, Sunday, on the East rift zone eruption from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano.
“Hawaiian Volcano Observatory continues to monitor active flows. Two lava flows have entered the ocean off Highway 137 near MacKenzie State Park. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported that sulfur dioxide emission rates tripled down wind of the rift today. Areas of Kamaili, Seaview, and Malama Ki have elevated levels. Take action necessary to limit further exposure.
Due to the lava entry at the ocean, the following policies are in effect:
- Access to the area is prohibited due to the laze hazard.
- Stay away from any ocean plume. The plume travels with the wind and can change direction without warning.
- The U.S. Coast Guard is actively monitoring the area. Only permitted tour boats are allowed in the area.
- Highway 137 is closed between Kamaili Road and Pohoiki Road.
- Kamaili Road is closed to all thru traffic. No stopping, this is a high sulfur dioxide area.
- Everyone is asked to stay out of the area.
The residents of lower Puna are going through a very difficult time. We ask for your help by avoiding the affected areas. Thank you for your understanding.
Thank you for listening. We are on watch 24-hours a day for your safety.
This is your Hawai‘i County Civil Defense.” the update concludes.
“Additional explosive events could produce ashfall downwind are possible at any time. Volcanic gas emissions at the summit remain high.”- USGS Volcanoes said on Sunday. “We were never really waiting for one “big explosion” but rather a series of small explosions, like those that are happening right now. We expect these small explosions to continue for the coming days. In 1924 — the best parallel we know of for the current activity — small explosions occurred sporadically for 17 days…” USGS Volcanoes added.
USGS Volcanoes also confirmed that lava level has dropped below the groundwater level at Kilauea.
“Yes, it has been below the water table for about a week or so. We know this because the steam explosions have begun, and because of the presence of H2S in the plume (that gas forms when SO2 reacts with groundwater).”
Overnight, USGS-Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists tracked lava flows as they descend downhill and enter the ocean. The flow is ~3 m (9 ft) high and the HVO scientist mapping the flow is about ~15 m (50 ft) away, the USGS added.
The Kilauea volcano erupted at least twice this weekend, at one point launching a cloud of ash up to 10,000 feet high and causing a 5.0 magnitude tremor and a 4.9 magnitude tremor at the summit. The volcano has caused almost two dozen fissures to crack the Earth’s surface open spewing fountains of lava and dangerous sulfur dioxide.
New evacuations were underway in Hawaii as active lava flows Saturday evening caused brush fires to spread in Puna, the easternmost district on the Big Island.
Many of the people in the area had already voluntarily evacuated, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said. The mayor’s office also confirmed the first injury since Kilauea erupted May 3. The spokesperson said a homeowner on Noni Farms Road in the hard-hit town of Pahoa was sitting on his balcony when he was hit with lava splatter. The man was hit on the leg and shattered everything from the shin down to his foot, the spokesperson said. The man was rushed to the hospital for treatment.
The lava erupting from Kilauea can be as hot as 2,000 degrees, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), though it cools by hundreds of degrees once it hits the open air.
Officials were also concerned about two fissures which had merged near MacKenzie State Park and the lava entering the pacific ocean, forming what is called laze.
“Laze is formed when hot lava hits the ocean sending hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air,”Hawai‘i County Civil Defense warned in a statement. “Health hazards of laze include lung, eye and skin irritation. Be aware that the laze plume travels with the wind and can change direction without warning.”