LATEST: Officials warn of hazardous air quality due to shifting winds, explosions

LATEST: Officials warn of hazardous air quality due to shifting winds, explosions
Plumes pour from Kilauea's summit crater after a rockfall last week. (Image: USGS)
Plumes pour from Kilauea's summit crater after a rockfall last week. (Image: USGS)
Eruptions are ongoing in lower Puna, where dozens of homes have been destroyed (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Eruptions are ongoing in lower Puna, where dozens of homes have been destroyed (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)

This story updates throughout the day. 

Civil Defense officials warn of hazardous air quality due to shifting winds and explosions

The Hawaii County Civil Defense says more towns may be affected by the volcanic gases, vog and ash due to light easterly winds.

These areas include Kurtistown, Mountain View and Glenwood.

Officials say occasional bursts of ash from the summit of Kilauea -- including one that sent an ash plume about 15,000 feet into the air -- along with the shifting wind pattern may lead to buildup of ash and sulfur dioxide downwind of the Kilauea summit.

People who live downwind should take precautions for ashfall, including wearing masks and staying indoors if possible.

NWS: Light ashfall likely to continue

Occasional small bursts of volcanic ash from the Kilauea summit continued from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

As a result, the National Weather Service issued a special weather statement warning that trade winds will push ash toward the southwest. The ash fallout will likely occur over the Ka'u District of the Big Island.

Ash masks to be distributed on Big Island

Masks to protect against ash will be distributed in a number of Big Island communities this week.

The masks will be distributed from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at:

  • Cooper Center
  • Pahala Community Center
  • Naalehu Community Center
  • Hawaiian Ocean View Community Center
  • Shipman Gym

Mask distribution is also set for Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at all of the locations.

NWS warns of trace ashfall from explosive eruption

The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement on Tuesday after an explosive eruption at the summit of Kilauea sent a plume of 8,000 feet into the air.

Forecasters warn that winds may push the ash clouds toward the southwest, primarily over the Ka'u District.

They say excessive exposure to ash could cause additional problems to those with respiratory issues. It could also cause irritation to the eyes.

Larger explosions are possible at any time, NWS says.

Officials: It's unclear when Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will reopen

Officials say they're not yet sure when Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will reopen.

Monday was the 12th day of a closure of the popular park, the no. 1 tourist attraction on the Big Island.

The disappointing news comes as Big Island businesses say visitor cancellations continue amid ongoing eruptions.

Officials say the cancellations have already spurred layoffs and that losses are mounting.

A new crack could divert lava

It's not a major diversion, but scientists are tracking a new crack that formed Sunday.

They say it opened under the east lava channel and could've possibly sent lava back underground.

"This may cause changes downslope in the channel system and the ocean entry," HVO staff said.

The ocean entry point however shows no sign of slowing or weakening.

Sulfur dioxide levels triple as lava reaches ocean

May 18th brought a new alert from the Hawaii Volcano Observatory staff. Around 8:45 a.m., they reported levels of toxic sulfur dioxide near the lava flow tripled, and residents were urged to take the necessary precautions to avoid exposure.

The lava flow from fissure 20 first dripped into the Pacific Ocean Saturday night. The lava is entering the ocean at two points along the southeast coast of the island, in the vicinity of the Mackenzie State Park.

The U.S. Coast Guard is enforcing a 300-meter safety zone for mariners.

The map below shows where the lava is flowing:

Lava crosses critical access road to Lower Puna, pours into ocean 

Around 11 p.m. Saturday, Hawaii County Civil Defense confirmed that fast-moving lava had crossed over Highway 137, just south of Mile Marker 13, and entered the ocean off the coast of Hawaii Island

The highway is a critical access point and the main evacuation route for many residents in Lower Puna.

Lava entering the ocean is also prompting warnings from officials about the threat for hazardous laze. Laze is formed when lava hits the ocean, sending hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air. It can cause lung, eye, and skin irritation.

Residents are being asked to avoid the area and any contact with a plume.

The Department of Transportation says Highway 130 between Malama Street and Kamaili Road is still open to local traffic.

State crews are working to prepare the Chain of Craters Road as a future evacuation route.

Click here for more details.

Lava-ignited brush fires force residents to evacuate

Around 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Civil Defense officials said brush fires were spreading towards homes along Kamaili Road in the Opihikao area.

The brush fires were ignited by lava flowing nearby.

Residents were told to "evacuate immediately" as authorities went door-to-door to clear the area.

The public is advised to stay away from the area until further notice.

Man reports injuries after being hit with lava

A man suffered serious injuries Saturday after he was hit by spattering lava.

He was at home on Noni Farms Road when lava flew through the air and landed on his shin.

For more details, click here.

DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife closes park due to lava flows 

The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife closed the Malama Ki Forest Reserve on the Big Island on Saturday after lava began flowing into it. DLNR officials say maps  showed one of three separate lava flows heading to the ocean — with one going through the forest reserve.

It's also possible that the steadily intensifying lava flows could impact the Mackenzie State Recreation Area. It and Lava Tree State Monument were closed in early May after a series of earthquakes caused cracks in Highway 137.

Hawaii Electric Light is working on solutions to provide power for Puna residents 

Hawaii Electric Light announced on Saturday that it has plans to to provide electricity options for Puna residents cut off by the lava flows.

HELCO crews are currently looking for safe area to set up portable generators and other power equipment. Plans include large capacity diesel generators, as well as portable solar-battery-generator units.

The power company is also considering using steel poles that can span lava flows, and temporarily connect to undamaged distribution lines.

"For the past week, engineers from Hawaii Electric Light and Hawaiian Electric have been analyzing possible scenarios and creating plans that can help power critical infrastructure, such as cell phone towers," said Rhea Lee-Moku, a HELCO spokesperson. "We've developed several plans that can be implemented to provide short-term solutions."

"Work on long-term solutions will continue and will be dependent on the impact of the lava and other seismic activity in this area, as well as guidance from Civil Defense authorities," Lee said.

Authorities again warn residents about poor air quality in Puna

Volcanic emissions and vegetation on fire is making for poor air quality conditions in parts of Puna, the USGS has warned.

Hawaii County Civil Defense, meanwhile, has said parts of the Lanipuna Gardens subdivision remain in "red" air quality status.

That means people shouldn't venture into the community.

On Friday, violent eruptions were reported in several areas of Puna.

4 rescued after fast-moving flow crosses Pohoiki Road

Four Puna residents were rescued Friday after fast-moving lava crossed Pohoiki Road, cutting off about 40 homes.

The four were rescued by National Guard and Hawaii County choppers.

Others in the area are being asked to stay in place and "await further instructions."

Authorities said a fast-moving flow from fissure no. 20 cross Pohoiki Road near Malama Ki Place about 5 p.m.

USGS: Hotter, fresher lava is spewing into Puna communities

Scientists say the lava that flowing into Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens is fresh — right from Kilauea's summit.

And that's bad news.

The first eruptions that happened in the lower Puna subdivisions were spitting out older lava from a 1955 flow. The lava was sticky, pasty and slower.

But on Friday, geologists said tests confirmed lava erupting in the area now is from the summit, which means it's fresher and hotter.

And, it means it's likely to move faster and farther.

"So far, with fresher, hotter magma, there's the potential that the lava flows can move with greater ease and therefore cover more area," said Janet Babb, USGS geologist.

County announces free mask distributions

Due to the high levels of sulfur dioxide gas from the volcanic activity, the Hawaii County Civil Defense announced that free masks will be distributed to residents.

Distribution will continue Friday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Cooper Center and Ocean View Community Center.

Only one mask per family member will be provided.

The County said masks do not protect against gases and vapors, but will provide filtering for ash.

A third shelter opens

Hawaii County officials announced a third shelter has opened. The Sure Foundation, located on Pohaku Circle in Keeau, is now open and will cater to those with breathing problems, but everyone is welcome.

All shelters are pet friendly.

People from the Pahoa Community Center shelter who have breathing concerns are relocating to this shelter.

Schools to reopen following day of closures

The state Department of Education said Pahoa High and Intermediate School and Keonepoko Elementary School will be open on Friday.

Several schools were closed on Thursday because of high sulfur dioxide levels, but officials deemed it safe enough to reopen schools.

FAA tightens airspace around Kilauea's summit crater

The FAA is prohibiting aircraft from entering airspace up to 30,000 feet in the sky above Kilauea's summit crater after Thursday's explosive eruption.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the Associated Press the flight restriction extends an earlier limit that was up to 10,000 feet.

The prohibition applies to a 5 mile radius around the summit crater.

Thursday's eruption sent ash about 30,000 feet above sea level.

However, operations at the Big Island's two biggest airports in Hilo and in Kailua-Kona are not affected.

Hawaiian Airlines says its flights to the two airports are operating as scheduled. The airline is encouraging guests to monitor their flight status for updates.

Free masks to protect against ash to be distributed

Hawaii County is distributing free face masks to protect against ashfall.

The N95 masks will not protect against sulfur dioxide gas.

The masks will be distributed from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at:

  • Cooper Center
  • Pahala Community Center
  • Naalehu Community Center
  • Shipman Park Pavilion

High sulfur dioxide levels force school closures

Classes were canceled at several schools on Thursday morning amid ongoing eruptions in lower Puna.

Authorities said sulfur dioxide levels are high in several communities, and are urging residents to take precautions.

Here are the schools that are closed:

  • Pahoa High and Elementary
  • Keonepoko Elementary School
  • Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science
  • Volcano School of Arts and Sciences
  • Na Wai Ola Public Charter School

Explosive eruption prompts ashfall advisory

Hawaii Volcano Observatory officials on Thursday confirmed that an explosive eruption occurred at the summit of Kilauea. As a result, the National Weather Service issued an ashfall advisory for the Ka'u District of the Big Island.

The advisory is in effect until noon.

Officials say the ash plume reached 30,000 feet and that ash emissions are expected to reach the immediate vicinity of the summit, including Volcano and Glenwood.

HVO is still assessing the situation to see whether this was a steam-driven explosion.

Hawaii Electric Light establishes no-entry zones in parts of Puna

Hawaii Electric Light announced on Wednesday that a portion of Leilani Estates and all of Lanipuna Gardens are now designated no-entry zones for its crews.

HELCO officials say that, over the past few days, fissure activity in the area has put crews in situations that could have resulted in severe injury. HELCO has decided that it is no longer safe to send workers to facilitate repairs in those areas.

The following areas are in the no-entry zone:

  • Leilani Avenue from Pomaikai street to Pohoiki Road
  • Malama Street east of Pomakai Street
  • Kahukai Street from Nohea Street to Leilani Avenue
  • Pomaikai, Moku and Kupono Streets south of Leilani Avenue
  • All streets east beginning with Nohea Street
  • All of Lanipuna Gardens including Hinalo, Lauone, and Honuaula Streets, and all connector roads into Lanipuna Gardens

USPS suspends mail service in parts of Puna 

Mail delivery has been suspended in several areas of the Puna region due to concerns over volcanic activity and air quality. The United States Postal Service is asking residents in the affected areas to pick up their mail at the Pahoa Post Office.

Mail service has been suspended in the following areas:

  • Pahoa-Kapoho Road
  • Papaya Farms
  • Vacationland
  • Kapoho Beach
  • Kapoho-Kalapana Road
  • Seaview
  • Puna Palisades
  • Kehena
  • Kalapana Shores
  • Uncle Roberts
  • Kalapana-Pahoa Road
  • Chain of Craters Road
  • Black Sands

Cracks form on highway in Volcano after quake

Several large cracks formed on Highway 11 in Volcano on Wednesday after a 3.5-magnitude quake rattled the Big Island.

The state Transportation Department said the roadway remains open and safe to travel.

However, the public is being urged to used caution in the area.

Hawaii County said the cracks formed between mile markers 28 and 29, near the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Geologists say a steam-driven explosion is possible

HVO officials said "dense ballistic blocks" measuring about 2 feet across were found in the parking lot near Halemaumau Crater. They said those blocks show the "most energetic" explosions and could signal the onset of a steam-driven explosion.

These enormous, steam-induced eruptions could happen if lava hits the water table. Geologists have been closely monitoring for signs of this type of eruption over the past few days.

Further observations are needed to confirm.

In the meantime, officials say more explosions are expected and could be more powerful.

A 4.4-magnitude earthquake rattles parts of the Big Island

A 4.4-magnitude earthquake struck near the Volcano region around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, but there was no tsunami threat, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. However, some areas may have experienced shaking.

The quake was initially measured at a magnitude of 4.2

Dozens of small earthquakes continue to rattle the region, but none have posed any kind of tsunami threat to the state.

Ashfall advisory is canceled

At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service canceled the ashfall advisory for the Ka'u District of the Big Island.

Web cameras showed the volcanic emissions from the Halemaumau Crater have decreased since Tuesday night.

But authorities warned the situation could change quickly.

NWS reminds residents of ashfall advisory

The National Weather Service reminds residents of the Big Island's Ka'u District that an ashfall advisory remains in effect until 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Officials say a large plume of ash from Halemaumau Crater has been shooting ash into the air, and winds are carrying that ash southwest of the crater to neighboring towns.

Residents are warned of air quality issues, which could be harmful for those with respiratory issues.

The advisory will be reevaluated after sunrise and may need to be extended.

Civil Defense: There is no threat of a 'mega-tsunami'

Hawaii County officials responded Tuesday to rumors that have been circulating social media about an impending "mega-tsunami" that would affect several islands as a result of volcanic activity on the Big Island.

"The Hawaii Civil Defense Agency has received several inquiries from media and the public asking about the potential for a tsunami to affect other counties.  This is a false message being spread," the agency said, in a news release.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologists say there's no evidence to suggest a major earthquake is imminent. And, civil defense said, "any such event is extremely unlikely."

HELCO: We're ready to respond if ashfall cuts power

Electric crews are standing by in case ash falling across the Ka'u District triggers power outages.

Hawaii Electric Light said a light dusting of ash and moisture on utility insulators could result in electrical short circuits.

"If this occurs, we are prepared to respond once it is safe for employees to work in the impacted area," said Rhea Lee-Moku, spokeswoman for Hawaii Electric Light. "While we have equipment that can wash off ash from utility equipment, this is the first experience we will have with widespread volcanic ash."

Crews reopen Highway 130 in lower Puna

State crews have reopened Highway 130 in lower Puna after covering new cracks with additional plates.

Earlier, the state Department of Transportation the thoroughfare would not open to local traffic as planned because new cracks had developed overnight.

However, the state was able to cover the new cracks and allow local traffic through about 1 p.m.

The DOT said, however, it would continue monitoring the roadway and could shut it down if "hazardous conditions develop."

NWS reissues warning about ashfall

The National Weather Service has reissued its warning about a "very light ashfall and hazardous air quality" that's likely throughout the day Tuesday.

The web camera at the summit of Kilauea volcano showed a plume of smoke and ash emissions from Halemaumau Crater around 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Northeast winds will carry ash downstream across Big Island's Kau district.

Officials to kill active geothermal wells at PGV

After the latest fissures opened in the area near Lanipuna Gardens over the weekend and on Monday, officials are raising concerns about their proximity to the Puna Geothermal Venture site.

Officials are planning to kill three active wells at the site starting Tuesday. The process will involve pumping cold water into the wells.

They're hoping to kill all the wells by the end of next week.

'Red' air quality alert issued for areas of Big Island

Fissures in the southeast area of Lanipuna Gardens are producing high levels of sulfur dioxide gas, according to Hawaii fire officials.

The air quality in the area is "condition red," which means hazardous gas levels can pose an immediate danger to health.

Hawaii Fire Department officials are urging anyone in the area to leave immediately.

Risks of exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide include choking and other serious respiratory problems.

Big Island: Wrong info is hurting tourism

Big Island Managing Director Wil Okabe was on the war path Monday, saying that social media and mainland news organizations are spreading incorrect information about ongoing eruptions in Kilauea's east rift zone and prompting scores of visitors to cancel their Hawaii vacations.

"There is an economical impact because wrong information is given from some news media around the country," Okabe said. "There are cancellations of vacations and that affects the economy."

In fact, Hawaii Island tourism officials say cancellations from May through July have hit at least $5 million.

He noted that the active eruptions are affecting just a small portion of the Big Island; he estimated just 5 percent.

And he compared the cancellations to people forgoing trips to Colorado because something was happening at Disneyland.

Okabe also railed against people who he said are putting their health at risk to get video and photos of active lava. And he complained about people who are venturing into subdivisions under mandatory evacuations.

"We are not here to create panic," he said. "The rest of the state is safe."

NWS: Ashfall expected through the day

The National Weather Service is warning residents in the Big Island's Kau District about a "very light ashfall" that's likely throughout the day.

The ashfall is happening after a rockfall at Kilauea's summit crater sent plumes of smoke and ash into the sky.

The USGS confirmed Monday morning that the plumes were not caused by a steam-induced explosion, the type of eruption officials have warned could send boulders "the size of cows" as far as a half mile away and could product thick ashfall as far away as Hilo.

Forecasters say the ashfall from Monday morning's plumes are traveling toward the Kau District, and that residents should expect conditions to continue through at least 6 p.m.

Residents are urged to avoid "excessive exposure to ash," which can irritate eyes and breathing.

Officials renew warnings about hazardous volcanic fumes

Hawaii Civil Defense officials are again warning residents near active eruptions to be aware of toxic fumes.

Sulfur dioxide emissions can be especially hazardous to the elderly, children and those with respiratory problems.

The best way to protect yourself from the fumes is to leave the area.

Only specialized masks can protect against dangerous gases and particulates.

For the latest, click here.

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