PAHOA, Hawaii, May 14 (Reuters) - Residents near Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano faced warnings on Monday that more lava-spewing fissures could open near their homes and that the volcano’s summit may be getting ready for an explosion that could scatter ash and debris for miles.
Since Kilauea began erupting on May 3, nearly 2,000 people have been ordered to evacuate as 18 giant fissures ripped through the area, including two new ones that opened on Sunday with ear-piercing screeches that sent lava and rocks flying.
But the U.S. Geological Survey also has warned that pent-up steam could cause an explosion at the top of the volcano as the pool of lava recedes, launching a 20,000-foot (6,100-meter) plume that could spread debris over 12 miles (19 kilometers).
“More explosive activity generating larger ash clouds remains possible and can occur with no warning,” the USGS said in an alert late Sunday local time.
One of the new fissures to open on Sunday, a groove of lava with smoke pouring out both ends, 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-meters) volcano with a lake of lava at its summit.
Oozing flows of molten rock have destroyed some 37 buildings in the past 10 days, while emissions of sulfur dioxide gas in some areas has turned vegetation brown. No deaths or major injuries have been reported since Kilauea, which has been in a state of nearly constant eruption since 1983, began a series of major explosions early this month.
The volcano is located in the far east of Hawaii’s 4,028-square-mile (10,430-square-km) Big Island, which is home to about 200,000 people.
The USGS warned that fissures could erupt throughout the area, and Civil Defense officials on Sunday ordered people living on Halekamahina Road to evacuate and be on the alert for gas emissions and lava spatter.
In the evacuated Leilani Estates neighborhood of about 1,500 people, explosions could be heard on Sunday as steam rose from cracks in the roads. Other fissures continued to billow smoke over homes.
The Hawaii National Guard has warned people in the coastal Lower Puna area to prepare to leave, saying anyone who chooses to stay behind cannot count on being rescued. An evacuation has not been ordered there but might be if a local highway is cut off.
Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Pahoa and Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Peter Szekely in New York;