Hawaii lava flow engulfs more homes

Lava threatens more houses in Hawaii
Lava threatens more houses in Hawaii. Photo credit: Reuters

New, fast-moving lava is pouring from the flank of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, destroying four more homes on the Big Island after a second explosive eruption shot an ash plume three kilometres high from the crater.

Molten rock from two huge cracks formed a single channel and travelled twice the speed of previous flows of older lava that have torn through homes, roads and tropical forest for over two weeks, the County of Hawaii's Civil Defence Agency said.

The new lava, which is flowing east underground from the sinking lava lake at Kilauea's summit, is expected to create more voluminous flows that travel further, threatening homes and a coastal road that is a key exit route for around 2000 residents.

"There is much more stuff coming out of the ground and it's going to produce flows that will move much further away," said US Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall on a conference call with reporters.

Lava eruption in Hawaii.
Lava eruption in Hawaii. Photo credit: Reuters

Up at the volcano's summit, some 40km to the east, the second large explosive eruption occurred around midnight, with winds blowing ash onto communities southwest of the crater, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported.

Scientists expect Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, to experience a series of explosive eruptions that could spread ash and volcanic smog across the Big Island, the southernmost of the Hawaiian archipelago. That could pose a hazard to jet engines if it blows into aircraft routes around 30,000 feet (9km).

There have been no reported injuries or deaths since the latest eruption began on May 3.

Many thousands more residents have voluntarily left their homes due to life-threatening levels of toxic sulphur dioxide gas spewing from vents in the volcanic fissures.

A further 2000 residents of coastal communities may face compulsory evacuation if lava from the fissures blocks the Oceanside Highway 137.