The eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano could intensify in the coming weeks, possibly spraying boulders, rocks and ash for miles around, the U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted last week. Lava flows from fissures on its eastern flank have destroyed at least 36 homes and other buildings and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 residents.
The USGS said the risk would rise if the lava dropped below the groundwater level beneath the summit's caldera. An influx of water inside could cause steam-driven explosions.
The agency said more violent eruptions could send “ballistic rocks” weighing up to a ton for about a kilometer or smaller ones much farther.
The emergence of two new vents prompted Hawaii County to issue a cellphone alert ordering stragglers in two communities on the volcano's eastern flank to get out immediately. Police followed up with personal visits.
Both communities are in a forested, remote part of the Big Island on the eastern flank of Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since 1983.
In recent years, the volcano has mostly released lava in hard-to-reach areas inside a national park or along the coastline. But last week, vents popped open and released lava, gas and steam inside neighborhoods.
There’s no indication when the eruption might stop, or how far the lava might spread.