Hawaii lava finally reaches the Pacific - only to create another deadly danger


Lava flow from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano reached the Pacific Ocean on Sunday (May 20), resulting in billowing white clouds as the molten rock interacted with water.

A volcano that is oozing, spewing and exploding on Hawaii's Big Island has gotten more hazardous in recent days, with rivers of molten rock pouring into the ocean Sunday and flying lava causing the first major injury.

A stream of lava blocked a Hawaii highway that serves as an escape route for coastal residents fleeing the Kilauea volcano. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.

The lava haze called "laze" from the plume spread as far as 24km west of where the lava met the ocean on the Big Island's southern coast. "Spatter and lava are accumulating primarily within a few tens of yards of the vent", the Hawaii Volcano Observatory said. But a shift in wind direction could bring the laze toward population centers.

WATCH: There have been some risky developments on Hawaii's Big Island over the weekend, as lava from the Mount Kilauea volcano has blocked a major highway.

Scientists say the plume is condensed seawater that's laced with hydrochloric acid and glass particles that form when lava interacts with seawater.

"Like typical eruptions and lava flows, it's really allowing Madame Pele to run its course", he said, referring to the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire.

The steam cloud is the latest hazard caused by Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, which has burned several homes, caused explosive eruptions and forced thousands of evacuations since it started erupting more than two weeks ago.

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In response to the laze threat, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall told residents that "if you're feeling stinging on your skin, go inside".

"There continue to be explosions and earthquakes from the volcano's summit - many are saying it sounds like a war zone", Jackie Young of Hawaii Public Radio reported.

"We know people are going in there".

Hawaii County officials say sulfur dioxide gas emissions from the vents have tripled.

Williams-Downing said that the explosions and sounds similar to that of "jet engines" are normal now that numerous fissures have been cracking open and spewing lava for almost two weeks.

Around 2,000 residents of Leilani Estates and Laipuna Gardens housing areas near Pahoa, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Hilo, were ordered to evacuate due to at least 22 volcanic cracks that have opened. But the lava flow to the ocean has not slowed down.

Despite safety concerns in some residential areas - and worries that volcanic ash could interfere with air travel - Hawaii's business community has stressed that many tourist activities remain open, as do the island's airports.