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Hundreds Flee As Hawaii’s Most Active Volcano Kilauea Spews Lava And High Levels Of Toxic Gas

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Hundreds of residents have evacuated as Mount Kilauea, the most active volcano in Hawaii, spewed lava and sulfur dioxide gas, affecting subdivisions in Big Island.

Since Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey recorded at least 119 earthquakes, which were felt as far as the island of Oahu, approximately 200 miles away from Big Island.

Fissures in Kilauea volcano erupted, causing lava to flow in Leilani Estates, where some 1,700 people reside. About 14,000 homes lost power immediately after the earthquakes.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of residents from Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens to two community centers.

"The eruption in the Leilani Estates subdivision in the lower East Rift Zone of Kīlauea Volcano that began in late afternoon of May 3rd ended by about 6:30 p.m. HST. Lava spatter and gas bursts erupted from the fissure for about two hours, and lava spread a short distance from the fissure, less than about 10 [meters] (33 feet)," the USGS cited a notice from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Breathing large amounts of sulfur dioxide can be life-threatening, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Affected individuals may experience burning of the nose and throat, which can result in difficulty in breathing.

Understanding Kilauea's Fissures

Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University, said the eruption that happened on Mount Kilauea is the kind that "makes volcanologists nervous."

The USGS still has to determine the potential long-term effects of Kilauea's new fissures in the surrounding communities. Klemetti explained that if the lava flow stabilizes, residents can return to their homes in a week or two. However, there is a possibility that the new fissures will follow the pattern set by the other fissures on the volcano.

"If you get displaced by a lava flow, you may get displaced permanently. It might be at least months of lava flows. Or it might just end now," Klemetti said. "There's a likelihood that this is the establishment of a new lava-flow field and that it might be in action for a while."

Experts said that Mount Kilauea has been erupting for the last 35 years. However, the new fissures are located farther south of the volcano's face, where an eruption has not occurred since the 1950s.

Mika McKinnon, a geophysicist and disaster researcher, said Kilauea has not erupted suddenly or violently because it sits on top of oceanic plates, which are denser than continental plates. When an oceanic plate melts, the lava that comes out of it is runny, where gas can easily escape.

On the one hand, continental plates are composed of quartz or silica, which tend to form sticky lava when melted. Gas gets trapped in this kind of lava, which eventually could turn into a violent or explosive eruption.

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