May 13, 2018 / 9:37 PM / 11 days ago

REFILE-Huge fissure opens on Hawaiian volcano; more eruptions expected

(Refiles to fix typographical error in first paragraph)

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii, May 13 (Reuters) - A massive new fissure opened on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, hurling bursts of rock and magma on Sunday while threatening nearby homes within a zone where authorities had just ordered an evacuation.

The fissure, a vivid gouge of magma with steam and smoke pouring out both ends, was the 17th to open on the volcano since it began erupting on May 3. Dozens of homes have been destroyed and hundreds of people forced to evacuate in the past 10 days.

As seen from a helicopter, the crack appeared to be about 1,000 feet (300 meters) long and among the largest of those fracturing the side of Kilauea, a 4,000-foot-high (1,200-meter-high) volcano with a lake of lava at its summit.

Civil Defense officials on Sunday ordered people living on Halekamahina Road to evacuate and be on the alert for gas emissions and lava spatter. Nearby vacation rentals were directed to cease operations to conserve water and enable emergency operations to concentrate on year-round residents.

A pair of homes sat about 100 yards (100 meters) beneath the fissure on the hillside.

Meanwhile, other fissures continued to billow smoke over homes in Pahoa, on the western point of the Big Island of Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian islands.

The fissures spewed magma and piled lava as high as a four-story building.

“It is a near-constant roar akin to a full-throttle 747 interspersed with deafening, earth-shattering explosions that hurtle 100-pound lava bombs 100 feet into the air,” said Mark Clawson, 64, who lives uphill from the latest fissure.

“We are keeping track of lava bombs. One went through the lanai (porch) roof of a neighbor’s house.”

The U.S. Geological Survey has warned that more outbreaks were likely, given the high level of seismic activity.

Geologists warned on Friday that a steam-driven eruption from the Halemaumau crater could spew ash plumes 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) high and spread ash and debris up to 12 miles (19 km).

Kilauea’s vents have been oozing relatively cool, sluggish magma left over from a similar event in 1955. Fresher magma could now emerge behind it and the volcano is threatening to start a series of explosive eruptions, scientists have said.

Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Pahoa and Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu Editing by Daniel Trotta and Paul Simao

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