Hutchinson Woman Witnesses Hawaii Volcano 11 May 18

PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — A Hawaii volcano that sputtered lava for a week, forced around 2,000 residents to evacuate, destroyed some two dozen homes and threatened a geothermal plant now threatens to blow its top in the coming days or weeks.

Experts fear it could hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air.

Scientists note that as long as people stay out of closed areas of a national park around the volcano, the possible explosion won’t be deadly.

“If it goes up, it will come down,” said Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. “You don’t want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it’s coming out at 120 mph (193 kph).”

The added threat of an explosive eruption could ground planes at one of the Big Island’s two major airports and pose other dangers. The national park around the volcano announced that it would close indefinitely starting 10 p.m. Thursday because of the risks.

“We know the volcano is capable of doing this,” Mandeville said, citing similar explosions at Kilauea in 1925, 1790 and four other times in the last few thousand years. “We know it is a distinct possibility.”

He would not estimate the likelihood of such an explosion, but said the internal volcanic conditions are changing in a way that could lead to a blast in about a week. The volcano’s internal plumbing could still prevent an explosion.

If it happens, a summit blast could also release steam and sulfur dioxide gas.

Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures — including 26 homes — since May 3, when it began releasing lava from vents about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the summit crater. Fifteen of the vents are now spread through the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said crews at a geothermal energy plant near the lava outbreak accelerated the removal of stored flammable fuel as a precaution. The Puna Geothermal Venture plant had about 50,000 gallons (189,270 liters) of pentane. It was removed early Thursday.

Mary Hodson of Hutchinson, who is in Hawaii, took the photo seen below as she witnessed the volcano first hand.