PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) - New fissures roaring like jet engines and spewing magma have opened on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, piling lava as high as a four-story building as the U.S. Geological Survey warned that more outbreaks were likely.
A crack in pasture land on Kilauea’s east flank was the 16th recorded since the U.S. volcano, one of the world’s most active, erupted eight days ago. Thousands of people have fled their homes on Big Island and dozens of homes have been destroyed.
The new fissure opened up on Saturday about a mile (1.6 km) east of the existing vent system that has devastated the island’s Leilani Estates neighbourhood, close to several homes on the edge of the field.
“It’s right by my house, which is kind of scary,” said Haley Clinton, 17, who walked to see the new crack with her father, Darryl, and sister Jolon, 15. “It’s really cool.”
From afar, the fissure gave off dull, thumping roars that sharpened on approach to a scream from venting steam and gas, mixed with the slapping sounds of liquid lava.
Within hours of opening, the fissure had piled reddish-black lava about 40 feet (12 meters) high and at least 150 feet (45 meters) in length. Chunks of magma were being spewed 100 feet (30 meters) in the air.
The intense heat left onlookers drenched with sweat, and the air was filled with an acrid, burned scent. But with billowing gas and smoke blowing in the opposite direction, there was no pungent smell of toxic sulphur dioxide in the air.
Shortly after the fissure opened, the Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory said seismic activity remained “elevated” at Kilauea’s 4,000-feet-high (1,200-meter-high) summit. The USGS reported a shallow but small earthquake with a magnitude of 3.5 hit the island on Saturday.
Another fissure, the 17th since the lava flows began May 3, opened about 6 p.m. local time, venting gases the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.
Geologists warned on Friday that a steam-driven eruption from the summit’s 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.
GRAPHIC - Scorched earth: tmsnrt.rs/2IldVyS
As the area affected by Kilauea’s eruption widens, Hawaii residents are racing to buy respirators to cope with the ash and toxic gases spewing from the volcano.
David Baxter, 54, an employee of Pahoa Auto Parts, said the shop was selling out of respirators as soon as they get in and had sold about 3,000 so far. The shop was all out on Saturday.
“We pretty much bought up every (respirator) in the state, and we are selling them at cost - actually, a slight loss,” said Baxter. “We need to breathe.”
Even as the volcano continued to erupt, Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences, a charter middle and high school in Pahoa, will resume classes on Monday after being shut for a week.
A teacher at the school, Tiffany Edwards Hunts, who lives in the Big Island’s Vacationland neighbourhood, said she, her husband and two children - ages 10 and 6 - were readying to evacuate their home.
“My husband has been doing a good job of protecting them, but it is scary for kids,” she said.
Some pets have been left behind as many residents have fled their homes, and the Hawaii Island Humane Society said it had rescued 16 dogs, three rabbits, four tortoises and four cats.
Almost all had been picked up by their owners, and 1,400 livestock and 32 horses had also been taken from the volcano zone, it said in a statement
Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Pahoa, Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu and Karin Stanton on the Big Island; Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington; additional reportinng by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Alexander Smith