With explosive eruption possible, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to close

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Severe ground cracks associated with fissure 14 in Leilani Estates.
Severe ground cracks associated with fissure 14 in Leilani Estates. Photo Credit: USGS

Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will close on Friday because of the possibility of a steam-induced explosion at the summit of Kilauea.

The volcano has been erupting on the Big Island, sending lava flows into inhabited areas and interrupting service at the national park.

All but the Kahuku Unit of the park was due to be closed Friday until further notice.

"Due to the possibility of a steam-induced explosion at the summit of Kilauea due to the receding lava lake, an ensuing ash fall event, plus southerly wind patterns forecasted for Friday, the majority of the park will be closed Friday until further notice. We will reopen when it is safe to do so," a statement reads.

Also, the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks has closed Lava Tree State Monument and Mackenzie State Recreation Area until further notice, and the County of Hawaii has closed the Kalapana Viewing Area until further notice.

While the national park has been forced to close intermittently over the last two weeks, much of life on the Big Island remains unaffected by eruptions and lava flows. The Kona-Kailua resort area is 100 miles from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and operating as usual.

"All of the Hawaiian Islands are unaffected by Kilauea volcano except a remote area on the Island of Hawaii's east side. Out of the island's 4,028 square miles, only less than a 10-square-mile area of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens Subdivisions in Puna is affected," a statement from the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.

Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, began erupting on March 10, 2008. Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory noticed pressure building in the volcano in April, and had been closely watching for more powerful eruptions. On May 3, big plumes of smoke and ash emerged from Kilauea and dangerous lava flows crept toward residential areas on the island's east side. At least 2,000 people have been evacuated from the most vulnerable areas, and more than 30 homes have been consumed by the lava flows. Flights into the Kona and Hilo airports have been largely unaffected.

Now, scientists are concerned that a powerful eruption could spew toxic gas, ash and rocks into the air, putting the regions closest to the volcano at new risk.

There is some concern from scientists that vog (volcanic air pollution) could impact some areas farther from the volcano depending on wind conditions. However, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory does not anticipate any large-scale evacuations or widespread devastation from the eruptions.

All residents of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens Subdivisions have been required to evacuate. Pohoiki Road is closed from the intersection at Highway 132 down to Highway 137 to allow evacuation efforts of residents in Leilani.

Anyone with plans to visit or stay in the lower Puna area should check for the latest updates.

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