Kilauea volcano erupts in Hawaii, prompting warning to stay inside

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The Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island erupted on Sunday night, followed by an earthquake that struck at the volcano's south flank.

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii erupted overnight Sunday (Dec 20), prompting authorities to warn residents to shelter from ash driven by the wind, but there were no immediate concerns about evacuations or threats to life.

Kilauea lies in the southeast corner of the Big Island, where its continuous, decades-long activity has been punctuated by sequences of eruptions. It is considered one of the most active in the world.

The eruption occurred at the Halema'uma'u crater of the volcano, to the west at Kilauea's summit, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defence Agency, citing the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The observatory, part of the US Geological Survey (USGS), detected a glow within the crater at 9.30pm local time on Sunday, saying then that an eruption had started.

The agency said trade winds would propel ash toward the southwest, placing communities in the path of the fallout: the Kau District in Wood Valley, on the southeastern side of the island, and several Census-designated areas of hundreds of people, including Pahala, Naalehu and Ocean View.

"Stay indoors to avoid exposure to ash," the agency said.

The USGS said lava flowed through three fissure vents that opened on Sunday, letting loose a cascade of lava into the crater, where it boiled off the water and replaced it with a lava lake.

All of the lava was contained in the Halema'uma'u crater, according to the agency. On Monday morning, it said that the situation inside the crater had "stabilised".

Mr Cyrus Johnasen, a spokesman for the agency, said in a telephone interview that lava had intruded into the lake, causing a steam reaction that was similar to "hot water on a burner".

"The lava seems to be decreasing, but the emission of steam and gases from the crater remains the same," he said.

"The lava is not moving anywhere," he said. He said the agency was "monitoring air quality, and that is basically the only thing that is of immediate concern at this time."

Preliminary data recorded a 4.4-magnitude earthquake late on Sunday local time near the south flank of Kilauea, it said.

The south flank of Kilauea has been the location for more than 30 earthquakes of magnitude-4.0 or greater in the past two decades. On April 30, 2018, the Pu'u 'O'o crater on the Kilauea volcano collapsed, setting off the most destructive eruption of its recorded history. It lasted for the spring and summer, transforming the landscape and destroying hundreds of homes.

The Kilauea volcano has been erupting since 1983. The focal points at the start of the 2018 eruption sequence were the Halema'uma'u crater and a flank area known as the lower east rift zone, a point where the volcano's surface is gradually splitting apart.

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