Lava is still spewing from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano straight into residential neighborhoods on the Big Island, and the damage is only getting more catastrophic. But now the eruption is giving rise to a whole host of new dangers—and officials are scrambling to warn residents that there's more to worry about than just getting spattered with lava.
Volcanologist Wendy Stovall told Buzzfeed News Tuesday that the many fissures that have cracked through the Big Island are now emitting blue flames, burning methane gas trapped inside the ground like some kind of natural stove. And if any of those bright blue flames come in contact with lava, Stovall said that the highly flammable gas could trigger a massive explosion.
In video taken by the US Geological Survey, blue flames have engulfed parts of the island, transforming it into a potentially deadly hellscape:
Meanwhile, streams of lava have reached the Big Island's East Coast, pouring into the ocean and shooting up massive plumes of "laze": a deadly combination of steam, hydrochloric acid, and tiny particles of glass. Hawaii County has warned residents to steer clear of the toxic clouds, which can cause lung damage and eye irritation, and killed two people during an eruption in 2000. The Coast Guard is currently patrolling the areas where lava meets the ocean to keep people away—though authorities have warned people it can shift with the wind.
Back on land, the river of lava that's been swallowing everything in its path is marching toward a geothermal power plant, getting dangerously close to one of the Big Island's main power sources, NPR reports. If lava spills into the plant, it could release harmful chemicals into the air—most worryingly, hydrogen sulfide, which can kill if you're exposed to it for long enough, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency chief, Tom Travis, told Big Island Video News that operations at the plant have been shut down, and authorities are scrambling to protect the site's geothermal wells from the lava.
"It's not easy to predict where it's going to go and when it's going to get there," Travis said. "So it's important that we get what we can done now."
The destruction doesn't show any signs of stopping, and volcanologists with the US Geological Survey don't know when the eruption might let up. Meanwhile, more than 2,000 residents forced to evacuate look on while their towns are destroyed—a sight that's both tragic and impossible to look away from.
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