Hawaiian volcano eruption could shoot out 12-ton boulders

Boulders weighing more than a cruise ship anchor could be launched about half a mile from a Hawaiian volcano currently wreaking havoc on the state’s largest island.

The latest warning for scientists presents the biggest danger from Kilauea in almost 100 years, adding to a catastrophe that’s already destroyed dozens of structures.

A confounding eruption from the Big Island volcano could come in the next few weeks, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory warned in a conference call.

That’s because the 14 cracks in the ground it created in Leilani Estates have drained the lava lake at the summit of Kilauea.

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Volcano eruption in Hawaii forces evacuation
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Volcano eruption in Hawaii forces evacuation
PAHOA, HI - MAY 5: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, lava from a fissure slowly advances to the northeast on Hookapu Street after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 5, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 5: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, lava errupts from a new fissure from Luana Street after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 5, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 5: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, a panoramic view of a fissure errupting lava from the intersection of Leilani and Makamae Streets after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 5, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
A man watches as lava is seen sewing from a fissure in the Leilani Estates subdivision near the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, 2018 as up to 10,000 people were asked to leave their homes following the eruption of the Kilauea volcano that came after a series of recent earthquakes. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man watches as lava is seen coming from a fissure in Leilani Estates subdivision on Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, 2018. - Up to 10,000 people have been asked to leave their homes on Hawaii's Big Island following the eruption of the Kilauea volcano that came after a series of recent earthquakes. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Lava is seen coming from a fissure in Leilani Estates subdivision on Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, 2018. - Up to 10,000 people have been asked to leave their homes on Hawaii's Big Island following the eruption of the Kilauea volcano that came after a series of recent earthquakes. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Steam rises from a fissure on a road in Leilani Estates subdivision on Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, 2018. - Up to 10,000 people have been asked to leave their homes on Hawaii's Big Island following the eruption of the Kilauea volcano that came after a series of recent earthquakes. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, ash sprews from the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, a fissure forms on the west flank of the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, ash sprews from the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, the collapsed Puu Oo crater, which formed on April 30, spews ash on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
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If the lake drops below sea level, the scientists warned late Wednesday, the bubbling summit could blow — sending 12-ton boulders and tiny molten fragments flying.

"If an explosion happens, there's a risk at all scales,” Don Swanson, a volcano observatory scientist, said in a conference call. “If you're near the crater within a half a mile or so, then you would be subject to a bombardment by ballistic blocks weighing as much as 10 or 12 tons.”

Be, he admitted, scientists have no clue when in the next few weeks this could happen.

“We suspect it’s a rapid process,” he said. “We really don’t know for certain.”

The last such eruption was in 1924, when one person died as ash, rocks and other debris rained down on Big Island for more than two weeks.

About 1,700 residents in Leilani Estates and the surrounding areas have fled their homes since last week, when Kilauea began its latest eruption.

Fissures in the ground have shot molten lava that’s more than 2,000 degrees into the area, destroying 26 houses and another 10 structures.

The summit that’s likely to blow is located inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which said it will close Friday as a precaution.

The dipping lava lake level could also create ash that can float miles and blanket neighborhoods the way snow might.

Adding to the danger is about 50,000 gallons of flammable gas known as pentane, which is stored at the Puna Geothermal Venture plant not far from the fissures.

Workers have ramped up efforts to removed the explosive material from the volcano’s path, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said, because it would be “very, very hazardous”should the lava hit the gas-filled plant.

Ige added he hopes all the pentane will be removed by Thursday.

With News Wire Services

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