A U.S. Geological Survey image of the ash plume resulting from an early morning explosion at Kilauea volcano, in Hawaii, Thursday.
A predawn eruption at the summit of Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island shot ash thousands of feet in the air and dusted surrounding areas, the start of a series of steam-driven explosions that scientists said are rare and pose little danger.
Officials in Hawaii told residents in the island’s east and south, where Kilauea sits, to stay indoors Thursday and when outside to wear masks to protect against the ash. Scientists said the accumulation of ash has been light so far—less than a quarter of an inch—and isn’t expected to affect the whole island.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at the United States Geological Survey, or USGS, said the explosive eruption at Kilauea’s summit, at around 4:15 a.m. local time, shot an ash plume nearly 30,000 feet into the air, the first time in nearly 100 years that type of eruption has happened.
Powerful eruptions of lava at Kilauea two weeks ago and subsequent earthquakes have cracked major fissures into the ground in one district near the volcano, Puna. Those quakes and lava flows destroyed at least 26 homes and several neighborhoods have been evacuated.
Thursday’s eruption—a different kind—was the expected culmination of several weeks of activity at Kilauea, according to scientists, in which magma eruptions cause the lava at the volcano’s summit to drain. That, in turn, eventually generates new steam-driven eruptions and more shallow earthquakes.
It marks the start of what will likely be at least two weeks of similar short and sporadic bursts at the crater, each of which will propel debris and ash, based on what scientists observed the last time this happened at Kilauea, said Michael Poland, a geophysicist at the USGS monitoring the volcano.
“We are following the script of 1924 now,” Mr. Poland said. He said the explosive eruptions are scientifically noteworthy and impressive visually—shooting clouds of smoke and ash far into the sky—but that the danger to human life is little, Mr. Poland said. That is because the threat of rocks being hurtled out of the volcano covers an area that has already been evacuated, including a national park that has been closed since last week.
Officials don’t expect people to get injured if they stay out of the park. In 1924, one person died after being hit by debris because there weren’t as many restrictions on movement back then and people were in the area at the time of a summit explosion, Mr. Poland said.
Tremors that shook the ground around the volcano on Wednesday damaged several buildings and roads at the national park, and officials said more quakes are expected as the lava from Kilauea’s crater continues to drain.
Though the ash spread from the morning eruption was light, the National Weather Service said an ash fall advisory, for people to stay indoors, would be in place for four districts in the area around the volcano until Thursday evening.
The ash isn’t expected to affect areas of the island farther north or west, where there are luxury beach resorts, though it will likely continue for days or weeks as more eruptions happen and could spread farther or more intensely with stronger winds. It isn’t toxic, scientists said, and resembles the kind of dust that would cover a construction site.
“Right now it doesn’t look like there will be potential for ash fall on the west side of the island,” said John Bravender, a National Weather Service meteorologist.