HONOLULU (AP) – Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted from its summit before dawn Thursday, shooting a steely gray plume of ash about 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) into the sky that began raining down on a nearby town.
The explosion came about 6 a.m. after two weeks of volcanic activity that included the opening of more than a dozen fissures that spewed lava into neighborhoods. At least 26 homes have been destroyed.
The explosion probably lasted only a few minutes, and the ash accumulations were minimal, with trace amounts expected near the volcano and in the town named Volcano, said Mike Poland, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The crater sits within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed since May 11 because of the risk of a more violent eruption.
Officials have said the eruption isn’t likely to be dangerous as long as people stay out of the closed park.
Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. An eruption in 1924 killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.
Scientists warned on May 9 that a drop in the lava lake at the summit might create conditions for an explosion that could fling ash and boulders the size of refrigerators into the air.
Geologists predicted it would mostly release trapped steam from flash-heated groundwater released as though it was a kitchen pressure cooker.
Communities a mile or two away may be showered by pea-size fragments or dusted with nontoxic ash, they said.
The volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983. It’s one of five volcanoes on Hawaii’s Big Island, and the only one currently erupting.
DEVELOPING: Hawaii Co. Civil Defense Agency issues shelter in place alert due to spreading ash plume from an explosive eruption on Kilauea volcano’s summit early this morning. pic.twitter.com/62k0An0UbJ
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 17, 2018