Magma moves downrift during eruption pause

  • Courtesy of USGS This map shows the extent of the lower Puna eruption as of Wednesday.

Lower Puna waited for Pele to make her next move Thursday after going more than 24 hours without seeing magma surface.

The fissure count remained steady at 15 as of the evening, and vents in Leilani Estates emitted high levels of sulfur dioxide throughout the day, but without ejecting more molten rock.

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Despite the relative lull in the week-old eruption, Kilauea was far from settled.

Magma continued to push its way down the East Rift Zone, according to Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologists, who were tracking the progression of small earthquakes in the area, and ground cracks were steaming uprift of Leilani near Alaili Road and Highway 130.

“This thing is miles long,” said Jim Kauahikaua, HVO geophysicist, while referring to the magma intrusion, “and why it chose Leilani to erupt is not real clear.”

He said the tip of the intrusion was estimated to be near Noni Farms Road and Highway 132, also known as Kapoho Road.

Don Waguespack, who owns Cajun Paradise Farms on Kapoho Road, said he felt small earthquakes Thursday and Wednesday night, and was ready to leave if a fissure opened nearby.

“We’re going to stay put until we have to leave,” he said, adding their roadside coffee shop remains open.

“As a few folks put it, ‘You guys are a beacon,’ and we’re trying to do that. We’re trying have some sort of normalcy.”

Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said there were numerous cracks on Highway 130 near Alaili Road.

He said steam wasn’t being emitted from the road cracks but sulfur dioxide was detected. Police evacuated 10 homes on Alaili Road on Wednesday.

Magno said the cracks had made the highway nearly impassable. It remained closed between Malama Street and Kamaili Road.

Geologists say the lava lake at Kilauea’s summit continued to recede, creating the risk of large ash and steam eruption if it gets below the water table.

Due to the increased hazards, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed as of 10 p.m. Thursday. Only the Kahuku unit remains open.

Such an explosive eruption could launch large boulders within a half-mile radius or more and spread ash over a larger distance. A similar eruption in 1924 spread ash from Ka‘u through Hilo.

Tina Neal, HVO scientist-in-charge, said pea-sized tephra could fall within a mile or two.

“Beyond that radius, it depends on the ash column and the wind direction at that time,” she said.

Geologists say the ash would primarily be a nuisance for residents, and large projectiles are expected to remain within the park. Still, it could prove to be a respiratory irritant for those with certain health issues, or ground airplanes.

So far, the eruption in lower Puna has destroyed 36 structures, including 26 homes, and displaced approximately 2,000 people in the Leilani and Lanipuna subdivisions.

Magno said Pahoa is seeing more sulfur dioxide as a result of the eruption and a recent change in wind patterns.

He said a reading of 1 part per million was detected, which might affect “sensitive populations.”

“At least through (today) we will be in these conditions,” Magno said.

Air-quality monitors have been installed at Pahoa schools, he said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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