Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts with greater fury

HONOLULU Thu Mar 10, 2011 12:17am EST

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HONOLULU (Reuters) - The frequently restive Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii spewed a plume of lava 160 feet tall on Wednesday, more than twice as high as molten rock shot into the sky when eruptions flared anew on Saturday.

As eruptions continued at two spots, seismic activity grew more vigorous and poisonous sulfur dioxide gas emissions peaked at 10,000 tons per day, over 30 times last weekend's levels, before dropping off again by more than half, according to scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The 2,000-degree Fahrenheit molten lava from Kilauea's summit and the newly ruptured Kamoamoa fissure have destroyed 78 acres of rain forest since Saturday and buried 162 acres of park land.

The ground around the eruptions has continued to collapse, and forests downwind of the fissure were choked with volcanic fumes that are toxic to the vegetation, said Mardie Lane, an official at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.

"We've been fortunate that we've had showers and rain," Lane told Reuters. "One of the biggest unknown dangers is the spread of sulfur dioxide gas. It's invisible, noxious and toxic. When our rangers are in the field, they use respirators to filter out the harmful gases."

No injuries to people or damage to residential property has been reported since Kilauea roared back to life on Saturday. USGS scientists continued to monitor the activity.

Kilauea is one of five volcanoes that formed the Big Island, officially known as the island of Hawaii. Periodic eruptions of the volcano have destroyed 213 homes since the volcano emerged from a period of dormancy in 1983.

The latest episode began with the 370-foot collapse of the floor of the Pu'u O'o crater and opening of the 535-yard long Kamoamoa fissure on March 5.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan)

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