'Ballistic blocks' shoot from Hawaii volcano

The ash cloud

Earlier Thursday morning, a large plume of ash and smoke shot upwards of 30,000 feet into the air.

The eruption occurred shortly after 4 a.m. local time, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said.

The noxious gas, normally emitted at unsafe levels only from the volcano's Halemaumau Crater, was seeping at a greater rate from the fissures in Leilani Estates, a residential area of about four square miles in the Big Island's Puna district.

The newest eruption follows a damaging natural disaster, risky volcanic smog and large lava flows that are all threatening Hawaii's Big Island.

The eruptions that began May 3 in Leilani Estates, a rural neighborhood about 35 miles from Hilo, have destroyed 36 structures and forced evacuations of almost 2,000 people. "The eruption seems dramatic-and if you are on the ground near a fissure it certainly is-but the lava flows are still relatively small compared to most of the lava flow fields".

"Just a little while ago we had something that sounded like thunder", Hoyt said. She said the ashfall was localized. But ash could still present a problem for people with respiratory problems, and officials are monitoring the wind and weather patterns to predict where the ash from the volcano will go.

Geologists said the 4:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m. EDT) explosion was likely the first in a series of steam-driven blasts last seen in 1924, rather than "the big one" that nervous residents had feared as Kilauea was rocked by earthquakes in recent days.

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It was not the big blast scientists have been warning could come from the crater any time, and that threat - of an explosion that could produce flying boulders the size of cows - remained unchanged late Thursday. This generated an impressive ash plume that looks like thick rain.

One man and his pregnant wife said they and their toddler had just moved to the island from Seattle when the volcano erupted.

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has erupted from its summit, shooting a dusty plume of ash about 30,000 feet into the sky.

Houghton says that it may be hard to know when it is safe for people to return to evacuated areas.

All that magma flowing from the summit through the underground plumbing to the newly opened fissures caused the lava lake atop Kilauea to drop. Additional ash emissions are expected as the summit area remains unsettled.

Ash emissions from the summit at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano decreased, prompting the cancellation Wednesday of an ash fall advisory. "So a big event that got people's attention but not with widespread impacts", Michelle Coombes said.

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