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Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts, creating lava fountains and thick plumes of smoke, but officials say no homes in danger yet

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts 00:16

Honolulu — One of the most active volcanos on Earth is erupting on Hawaii's Big Island.

Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed Wednesday that an eruption has begun in the Kilauea volcano's Halemaumau crater at the volcano's summit.

The USGS tweeted that the eruption was "in full swing. What was once a cooling lava lake is now a new fissure eruption!"

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.

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The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory captured video of lava fountains from an eruption of Kilauea on Sept. 29, 2021, in a lava lake within Halema'uma'u crater. U.S. Geological Survey

CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB-TV said the eruption was "creating fountains that were up to 100 feet tall and thick plumes of smoke ― and flooding the floor of Halemaumau Crater."

The station cited officials as saying "volcanic gas and heavy vog could become a concern. Officials also warned of rocks and tephra getting blasted from the crater as well as 'Pele's hair,' which are tiny strands of fiberglass floating in the air."

Vog is a form of air pollution from a mix of volcanic gases and oxygen.

There are no homes in the area and the eruption is entirely contained within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said Ken Hon, the USGS scientist in charge of Hawaii Volcano Observatory. 

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U.S. Geological Survey webcam view of erupting Kilauea volcano late on September 29, 2021. USGS

"All signs indicate that it will stay within the crater," said Hon. "We're not seeing any indications that lava is moving into the lower part of the east rift zone where people live. Currently all the activity is within the park."

The volcano's alert level has been raised to "warning" and the aviation code changed to red.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane told The Associated Press officials are expected tens of thousands of visitors to flock into the park and that people need to be very careful both in terms of natural hazards and COVID-19.

"This eruption is going to draw many people to the park, we're already seeing people come into the park, drive in after dark tonight," Ferracane said. "Really need people to remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic and they need to stay safe and to keep us safe, too."

She said people must maintain six feet of distance and wear masks.

"If you're sick, please don't come. Come visit another day. Enjoy the views from the webcam," she said. "We really want to not have these current eruption conditions increase the spread of COVID."

General view of lava surfacing on the Halema'uma'u crater of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii
General view of lava surfacing on the Halema'uma'u crater of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on September 29, 2021, in this still image provided by the USGS surveillance camera.  USGS

Earlier 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 eruption, the volcano had been slowly erupting for decades, but mostly not in densely populated residential areas.

Before the major 2018 eruption, Kilauea had been erupting since 1983 and 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 80 feet of now-hardened lava. The molten rock reduced landmarks, streets and neighborhoods 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 Wednesday also erupted in December and lasted until May.

Hon said these types of eruptions could be happening for years as the volcano fills up.

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