Some 23 people were injured when explosive eruption on Hawaii’s Big Island sent lava crashing through the roof of a tour boat.
Hawaii’s County Fire Department said a woman in her 20s is in a serious condition with a broken thigh, while three others are in stable with the rest of the injured suffering from burns, scratches and superficial injuries.
The group were on board the tour boat Tuesday (AEST) taking visitors to view lava plunging into the ocean from the Kilauea volcano that’s been erupting for two months.
The ‘lava bomb’ punctured the boat’s roof, leaving a gaping hole.
The boat was able to return to its port in Hilo less than an hour later, and three of the injured were taken to a local hospital by ambulance, Hawaii County Fire Department Battalion Chief Darwin Okinaka said.
Nine or 10 other passengers with less severe injuries were driven to the hospital by private vehicle, and 10 more people were treated by paramedics at the port, he told Reuters by telephone.
A civil defence spokeswoman, Kelly Wooten, put the total number of injuries at 23.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said the boat was operated by Lava Ocean Tours, one of at least three companies offering daily excursions to passengers who pay around $US220 per person to watch from a vessel lava flowing into the sea.
The company’s representatives were not immediately available for comment.
Officials have warned of the danger of getting close to lava entering the ocean, saying the interaction can create clouds of acid and fine glass. Beside the hazards, several companies operate such tours.
Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers said they were in the process of interviewing injured passengers at the Hilo Medical Center.
Passengers told investigators the vessel was outside of the established safety zone.
The US Coast Guard in May instituted a safety zone where lava flows into the ocean off the Big Island. It prohibits vessels from getting closer than 300 metres from ocean-entry points.
The agency allows experienced boat operators to apply for a special license to get up to 50m from where lava sizzles into the sea.
DOCARE officers are now in the process of interviewing injured passengers at the Hilo Medical Center. In initial reporting passengers say the vessel was outside of the U.S. Coast Guard-established safety zone. Along with first responders both state and county officers were at the Wailoa ramp when the boat returned after the incident. A 20-year old woman received major trauma to her leg and the others suffered burns and scrapes.
DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “DLNR sends its wishes for full and speedy recovery to all of those involved.”
The molten rock is coming from the Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting from a rural residential area since early May and has destroyed more than 700 homes.
But until now, the only serious injury was to a man who was hit by flying lava that broke his leg.
The man, standing on a third-floor balcony, had his leg shattered from shin to foot when hit by lava spatter in May.