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Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupts at summit

Kilauea erupt
A satellite image of lava fountains in the crater of Kilauea. Photo: Getty
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One of the most active volcanoes on Earth is erupting on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Officials with the US Geological Survey confirmed on Wednesday (local time) that an eruption had begun in Kilauea volcano’s Halemaumau crater at the volcano’s summit.

Webcam footage of the crater showed lava fountains covering the floor of the crater and billowing clouds of volcanic gas were rising into the air. The same area has been home to a large lava lake at various times throughout the volcano’s eruptive past.

The eruption is not in an area with homes and is entirely contained within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The volcano’s alert level has been raised to “warning” and the aviation code changed to red.

Earlier on Wednesday, officials said increased earthquake activity and ground swelling had been detected, and at that time raised the alert levels accordingly.

Kilauea had a major eruption in 2018 that destroyed more than 700 homes and displaced thousands of residents. Before that, the volcano had been slowly erupting for decades, but mostly not in densely populated residential areas.

Since 1983, streams of lava occasionally covered rural farms and homes. During that time, the lava sometimes reached the ocean, causing dramatic interactions with the water.

Over four months in 2018, Kilauea spewed enough lava to fill 320,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, burying an area more than half the size of Manhattan in up to 24 metres of now-hardened lava. The molten rock reduced landmarks, streets and neighbourhoods to a vast field of blackened boulders and volcanic shard.

After the 2018 eruption the summit lava lake stopped erupting and for the first time in recorded history began to fill with water, raising concerns about the possibility of an explosive interaction between lava and groundwater.

The same area of the volcano that began erupting on Wednesday also erupted in December and lasted until May.

Officials expected tens of thousands of visitors to flock into the park and said people needed to be careful, both in terms of natural hazards and COVID-19.

-AAP