Hawaii Lava Fire

Trevor Hughes-USA TODAY

Lava From Kilauea Volcano In Hawaii Nears Geothermal Power Plant

May 22, 2018 - 3:25 pm

PAHOA, Hawaii (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is slowly making its way toward a geothermal power plant.

Emergency workers fear the lava could trigger the release of a deadly gas.

The plant has been closed, and flammable liquids have been removed. The wells have also been filled with cold water, but they will not be plugged until later in the day.

On Monday, the molten rock from the volcano founds its way to the ocean, creating a new hazard in the form of a toxic steam cloud.

uthorities on Sunday warned the public to stay away from the toxic steam cloud, which is formed by a chemical reaction when lava touches seawater.

Further upslope, lava continued to gush out of large cracks in the ground that formed in residential neighborhoods in a rural part of the Big Island. The molten rock formed rivers that bisected forests and farms as it meandered toward the coast.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reported that as of Monday, there were at least 23 fissures that had opened so far.

The rate of sulfur dioxide gas shooting from the ground fissures tripled, leading Hawaii County to repeat warnings about air quality. At the volcano's summit, two explosive eruptions unleashed clouds of ash. Winds carried much of the ash toward the southwest.

Joseph Kekedi, an orchid grower who lives and works about three miles from where lava dropped into the sea, said luckily the flow didn't head toward him. At one point, it was about a mile upslope from his property in the coastal community of Kapoho.

He said residents can't do much but stay informed and be ready to get out of the way.

"Here's nature reminding us again who's boss," Kekedi said.

Scientists said the steam clouds at the spots where lava entered the ocean were laced with hydrochloric acid and fine glass particles that can irrigate the skin and eyes and cause breathing problems.

On Saturday, the eruption claimed its first major injury. David Mace, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency who was helping Hawaii County respond to the disaster, said a man was struck in the leg by a flying piece of lava. He didn't have further details, including what condition the man was in.

Kilauea has burned some 40 structures, including two dozen homes, since it began erupting in people's backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood on May 3. Some 2,000 people have evacuated their homes, including 300 who were staying in shelters. But some residents are defying the evacuation orders.

"I have no fear for not getting out if something catastrophic could happen, but I don't believe anything catastrophic will happen," Leilani Estates resident John Artymovich told CBS News. 

In recent days, the lava began to move more quickly and emerge from the ground in greater volume. Scientists said that's because the lava that first erupted was magma left over from a 1955 erupted that had been stored in the ground for the past six decades. The molten rock that began emerging over the past few days was from magma that has recently moved down the volcano's eastern flank from one or two craters that sit further upslope -- the Puu Oo crater and the summit crater.

The new lava is hotter, moves faster and has spread over a wider area.

Scientists say they don't know how long the eruption will last. The volcano has opened more than 20 vents, including four that have merged into one large crack. This vent has been gushing lava high into the sky and sending a river of molten rock toward the ocean at about 300 yards per hour.

"I think we're moving into phase two and that's where we're going to see increased activity, potentially higher fountains, more lava flows. Much more dynamic situation than before," geologist Dr. Carolyn Parcheta told CBS News this week.

Hawaii tourism officials have stressed that most of the Big Island remains unaffected by the eruption and is open for business.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)