Waves of orange, glowing lava and ash blasted and billowed from the world’s largest active volcano in its first eruption in 38 years, and officials told people living on Hawaii’s Big Island to be ready in the event of a worst-case scenario.
The eruption of Mauna Loa wasn’t immediately endangering towns, but the US Geological Survey warned the roughly 200,000 people on the Big Island that an eruption “can be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly”.
Officials told residents to be ready to evacuate if lava flows start heading toward populated areas. On Monday night, hundreds of people lined a road as lava flowed down the side of Mauna Loa and fountained into the air.
The eruption migrated northeast throughout Monday and spread out over the side of the volcano, with several distinct streams of lava running down the hillside.
The eruption began late Sunday night following a series of fairly large earthquakes, said Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
The areas where lava was emerging — the volcano’s summit crater and vents along the volcano’s northeast flank — are both far from homes and communities.
Officials urged the public to stay away from them, given the dangers posed by lava, which is shooting 100 to 200 feet (30 to 60 metres) into the air out of three separate fissures roughly estimated to be 1 to 2 miles (1.6 to 3.2 kilometres) long.
Volcanic gases wafting out of the vents, primarily sulphur dioxide, are also harmful.
More generally, air quality on the Big Island is good right now, but officials are monitoring it carefully, said Dr Libby Char, the director of the state Department of Health.
Hon said air quality could deteriorate while the eruption lasts, which scientists expect will be about one or two weeks if the volcano follows historical patterns.