Kilauea Volcano: Code red warning issued as eruptions intensify

An enormous and continuous plume of dark ash began spewing from a fissure on Hawaii's Kīlauea Volcano with increased intensity on Tuesday. This prompted the USGS to issue a red alert for aviation, warning airlines and pilots to avoid the volatile area.

Aviators need to be wary of airborne ash, as the particles are large enough to impact the aircraft's engines and cause engine failure.

The ash cloud is reportedly reaching as high as 10,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level. This has varied depending on the strength and direction of the wind, with falling ash and increased vog reported in Pahala, a town 18 miles downwind of Kīlauea, according to the USGS.

There are now 20 active fissures that have cracked open since the volcano's eruption on Thursday, May 3, and 37 structures have been destroyed.

Hundreds remain evacuated from the Leilani Estates community, with more businesses closing and evacuations ordered with each new fissure.

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The observatory also remains concerned for the possibility of an explosive eruption at the volcano's Halema'uma'u Crater.

"At any time, activity may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent," according to the USGS observatory notice from Tuesday afternoon.

Winds are expected to direct the hazardous vog mainly to southern and western areas of the Big Island this week.

"Earthquake activity, ground deformation and continuing high emission rates of sulfur dioxide in the area indicate additional outbreaks of lava are likely as this eruption continues," the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported late Saturday.

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Such fears prompted officials to close much of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park until further notice.

"Due to the ongoing seismic activity and the anticipated explosions caused by large rock falls, the interaction of ground water and lava and the possibility of an ensuing ashfall event, the Kīlauea portion of the park will be closed...until further notice,” National Park Service officials said in a statement.

The national park closed entirely on Friday, May 4, due to strong and damaging earthquakes. No injuries were reported and about 2,600 visitors were evacuated.

“A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck at 12:32 p.m. Friday and caused violent shaking throughout the park. It triggered rockslides on park trails, crater walls and along sections of Chain of Craters Road,” officials said at the time. "Just one hour earlier, a magnitude 5.4 earthquake caused a coastal cliff to collapse into the ocean near the Hōlei Sea Arch.”

"This could generate dangerous debris very near the crater and ashfalls up to tens of miles downwind," the Civil Defense Agency stated.