Lava from the erupting Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is flowing towards a geothermal power plant as workers scrambled to shut it down to prevent the uncontrollable release of toxic gases.
It was the latest danger from Mount Kilauea’s eruption, which geologists say is among the worst events in a century from one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
The Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant, which provides about 25 per cent of power on the Big Island, has been closed since shortly after the eruptions began on May 3 and about 227,124 litres of flammable pentane used in the plant’s turbines have already been relocated.
Workers were trying to shut down the plant’s three wells, which at 1829 to 2438 metres underground, tap into extremely hot water and steam used to run turbines and produce electricity.
A berm was holding back lava flowing northwest towards the PGV plant and crews expected to cap two of its three wells, but were having difficulty with a third, the County of Hawaii said.
The state said last week it was pumping cold water into the wells and would cap them with iron plugs. Authorities are looking at alternative measures to kill the third well, Snyder added.
About five kilometres to the east of the plant on the coast, deadly clouds of acid and glass particles, known as ‘laze’, billowed into the sky as lava fell into the ocean from two flows blocking Highway 137, one of the main exit routes from the volcano area.
Another hazard is methane explosions as lava comes close to pockets of decaying vegetation that created the flammable gas.
Geologists say Kilauea’s eruption, which has already produced around two dozen lava-spewing cracks, has now entered a more violent phase, in which larger volumes of molten rock are streaming out of fissures and travelling further than previous flows.
At least 44 homes and other structures have been destroyed in the Leilani Estates and Laipuna Gardens area of the Puna district, and a man was seriously injured on Saturday when a plate-sized chunk of rock shot out of a fissure.