California Earthquakes, many aftershocks jolt the San Fransisco area this week

The San Andreas Fault line. By Kate Barton, David Howell, and Joe Vigil -

By Kami Klein

A series of earthquakes have been hitting California in the last few days.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the quakes began Monday at 10:33 p.m., when a magnitude 4.5 temblor rattled out of the suburbs of Contra Costa County, in the East Bay about 20 miles northeast of San Francisco. The USGS reported at least 26 aftershocks following the tremor, Then, on Tuesday at 12:42 p.m., a magnitude 4.7 quake struck in the remote mountains of San Benito County. No major structural damage was reported.

On Tuesday evening another earthquake this one rated at 3.4 also struck the Pleasant Hill area. The quake was recorded at 7:11 p.m. pacific, Tuesday, Oct. 15 and was centered under Pleasant Hill at a depth of 9 miles, the USGS reported.

Monday’s quake was the latest reminder that seismic forces put the East Bay at high risk of a major earthquake, including from the dangerous Hayward Fault, which runs along heavily populated areas. The Los Angeles Times also reported that the earthquakes struck on an unusual section of San Andreas fault known for ‘creeping’, a series of smaller earthquakes that could lead to larger ones along the fault line.

“This is the 10th earthquake larger than magnitude 4 in the last 20 years in this area” within a radius of about six miles from Tuesday’s epicenter said Keith Knudsen, USGS geologist and deputy director of the agency’s Earthquake Science Center.

In 2008 the USGS created “The Great ShakeOut” scenario to warn communities to prepare the bay area for larger quakes. This scenario was based on a potential magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault— approximately 5,000 times larger than the magnitude 5.4 earthquake that shook southern California on July 29, 2008. It’s not a matter of if an earthquake of this size will happen—but when.

Dr. Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey led a group of over 300 scientists, engineers, and others to study the likely consequences of this potential earthquake in great detail. The result is the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, which was also the basis of a statewide emergency response exercise, Golden Guardian 2008.

In an earthquake of this size, the shaking will last for nearly two minutes. The strongest shaking will occur near the fault (in the projected earthquake, the Coachella Valley, Inland Empire and Antelope Valley). Pockets of strong shaking will form away from the fault where sediments trap the waves (in the projected earthquake, it would occur in the San Gabriel Valley and in East Los Angeles).
Such an earthquake will cause unprecedented damage to Southern California—greatly dwarfing the massive damage that occurred in Northridge’s 6.7-magnitude earthquake in 1994. In summary, the ShakeOut Scenario estimates this earthquake will cause over 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries, $200 billion in damage and other losses, and severe, long-lasting disruption.

Shaken communities take stock of damage after Southern California quakes

A house left destroyed by a powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake, triggered by a 6.4 the previous day, is seen at night near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

By Alan Devall

RIDGECREST, Calif. (Reuters) – High desert communities in Southern California on Saturday assessed damage and braced for potentially dangerous aftershocks from a major earthquake that shook buildings, ruptured gas lines and sparked fires near the remote epicenter of the second temblor in as many days.

A house is left destroyed by an earthquake, triggered by a previous day quake, near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

A house is left destroyed by an earthquake, triggered by a previous day quake, near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

The powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked the Mojave Desert town of Ridgecrest south of Death Valley National Park as darkness fell on Friday, jolting the area with eight times more force than a 6.4 quake that struck the same area 34 hours earlier.

California Governor Gavin Newsom placed the state Office of Emergency Services (OES) on its highest alert and requested federal assistance.

He told a news conference in Ridgecrest on Saturday that he had just got off a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, seeking a presidential emergency declaration.

“I have full confidence that the president will be forthcoming, in immediate terms, with the formal declaration,” Newsom said, flanked by first responders.

Cracks emerge on a road after an earthquake broke in Trona, California, U.S., in this photo from the USGS posted on July 6, 2019. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

Cracks emerge on a road after an earthquake broke in Trona, California, U.S., in this photo from the USGS posted on July 6, 2019. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

There were several minor to moderate injuries, OES Director Mark Ghilarducci told reporters.

“No reports of any fatalities, so I think we’re very lucky there,” he said.

There were reports of building fires, mostly as a result of gas leaks or gas-line breaks, Ghilarducci said.

State officials said all roads damaged by the quakes had been repaired and reopened.

Violent shaking also caused water-main breaks and knocked out power and communications to parts of Ridgecrest, home to about 27,000 people some 125 miles (200 km) northeast of Los Angeles.

Officials warned there was sure to be a significant number of aftershocks, including possible powerful ones, and advised residents to ensure they had necessary supplies.

“I’ve said this ad nauseam: be prepared for the worst,” said Newsom, who on Saturday met victims in the hospital and visited a hardware store where the earthquake hurled products from shelves and left ceiling tiles scattered across the aisles.

Standing outside her damaged home in Ridgecrest, life-long resident Sierra Wood said it was heartbreaking and scary.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” she said. “I mean – they say that it’s happened and you’ve heard about it. But once you’re in it, it’s completely different, it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying.”

Her husband, Keith Wood, said the aftershocks were grueling.

“It’s like when, when do we get a break from it?” he said. “When is enough enough? Mother Nature has had her way. Give us a break now, OK?”

Evacuees leave a fire station with their belongings after an earthquake near Trona, California, U.S. July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Evacuees leave a fire station with their belongings after an earthquake near Trona, California, U.S. July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

The sprawling U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake just northwest of Ridgecrest was evacuated of all non-essential personnel following the quake.

The facility, which at more than 1.1 million acres (445,000 hectares) is larger than the state of Rhode Island, reported no injuries. Authorities were assessing any damage to buildings or other infrastructure, according to a post on the base’s Facebook page.

MORE TO COME

Friday’s earthquake was widely felt across Southern California, including greater Los Angeles, where shaking in some areas lasted about 40 seconds. Low-level rumbling extended as far north as the San Francisco Bay area and beyond to Reno, Nevada, and as far east as Phoenix, Arizona.

Seismologists said the initial quake on Thursday, and scores of smaller ones that followed it, proved to be foreshocks to Friday’s larger temblor, which now ranks as Southern California’s most powerful since a 7.1 quake that struck near a U.S. Marine Corps base in the Mojave Desert in 1999.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday’s quake was immediately followed by at least 16 aftershocks of magnitude 4 or greater and warned of a 50 percent chance of another magnitude 6 quake in the coming days. Geologists put the chance of another magnitude 7 tremor at 10 percent over the next week.

There were hundreds of aftershocks of 2.5 magnitude or greater in the area surrounding the epicenter, according to USGS data.

Victor Abdullatif was helping clean up broken bottles and other debris inside his father’s liquor store, the Eastridge Market, which sustained damage to its ceiling, and found the periodic aftershocks unnerving.

“They’re still scary because you almost don’t know, ‘Is this going to be a full earthquake?’ You have to kind of have faith that it’s just an aftershock,” he told Reuters.

The last major destructive quake to hit Southern California was the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994, which struck a densely populated area of Los Angeles. It killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage.

The comparatively limited damage from Friday’s quake, which packed greater force than the Northridge event, was a function of its location in a remote, less developed area.

Its ground motion, however, startled seismically jaded Southern Californians over a wide region.

Pools in Los Angeles sloshed wildly, and TV cameras at Dodger Stadium were shaking as they filmed the night Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

A television anchorwoman ducked out of sight during a local newscast as shouts of “get under a desk” were heard in the background.

(Reporting by Alan Devall; Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant, Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis, Joseph Ax and Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Toby Chopra, Will Dunham and David Gregorio)

Alert level raised for Hawaii volcano due to rumbles, quakes

FILE PHOTO: The Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii is shown in this March 25, 1984 handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, and released to Reuters on June 19, 2014. U.S. Geological Survey/Handout via Reuters

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – The Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii has been hit by at least 50 small earthquakes since October of last year, scientists said on Tuesday, prompting U.S. geologists to raise its alert level to yellow.

An eruption of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, did not appear to be imminent. The increased seismic activity indicated a shift in the “shallow magma storage system” under the mountain, the Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO) said in an advisory.

“As has happened before, it is possible that current low-level unrest will continue and vary in intensity for many months, or even years without an eruption,” the observatory said. “It is also possible that the current unrest is an early precursor to an eventual eruption. At this time, we cannot determine which of these possibilities is more likely.”

Yellow is the second level on the Hawaii Volcano Observatory’s color-coded alert chart, above green, which is used to indicate “background, non-eruptive state.” Orange signifies a volcano exhibiting “heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.” The highest alert level, red, indicates that an eruption is imminent.

“HVO expects that days or weeks prior to an eruption, monitoring instruments will detect signs of an increased potential for eruption,” the observatory said. “However, it is also possible that the time frame to eruption could be shorter – hours to days. All communities on the flanks of the volcano should be prepared.”

The last episode of volcanic activity in Hawaii was a destructive eruption of lava last summer from a series of fissures that opened at the foot of Kilauea Volcano, also on the Big Island.

Kilauea spewed rivers of molten rock that swallowed hundreds of homes before creeping several miles (km) to the ocean, ultimately engulfing two seaside housing developments there.

The property losses from the May-to-August event marked the most destructive eruption event of Kilauea or any other volcano in Hawaii’s recorded history.

Mauna Loa, which takes up more than half of the Big Island, and rises 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above the Pacific Ocean, last erupted in March and April of 1984, sending a flow of lava within 5 miles (8.05 km) of the city of Hilo.

The volcano has produced voluminous flows of lava that have reached the ocean at least eight times since 1868, and twice its eruptions have destroyed villages, in 1926 and 1950.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

In quake-prone Japan, attention shifts to flood risks as heavy rains increase

FILE PHOTO: The staff of metropolitan outer floodway management office looks around a pressure-adjusting water tank, part of an underground water discharge tunnel which was constructed to protect Tokyo and its suburb areas against floodwaters and overflow of the city's major waterways and rivers during heavy rain and typhoon seasons, at the facility in Kasukabe, north of Tokyo, Japan August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese have long been conditioned to prepare for earthquakes, but recent powerful typhoons and sudden, heavy rains have brought to the forefront another kind of disaster: flooding.

Experts warn that thousands could die and as many as 5 million people would need to be evacuated if massive dikes and levees in low-lying eastern Tokyo are overwhelmed by surging floodwaters.

The cities of Osaka and Nagoya also face flood risks, experts say, amid an increase in sudden heavy rainfall across the country in recent years, a symptom linked to global warming.

“Japan’s major metropolitan areas are, in a way, in a state of national crisis,” said Toshitaka Katada, a professor of disaster engineering at the University of Tokyo.

In July, parts of western Japan were deluged with more than 1,000 millimeters (39 inches) of torrential rain. Gushing water broke levees and landslides destroyed houses, killing more than 200 people in the country’s worst weather disaster in 36 years.

“If this happened to Tokyo, the city would suffer catastrophic damage,” said Nobuyuki Tsuchiya, director of the Japan Riverfront Research Center and author of the book “Capital Submerged,” which urges steps to protect the city, which will host the 2020 Olympics and Rugby World Cup games next year.

Particularly vulnerable are the 1.5 million people who live below sea level in Tokyo, near the Arakawa River, which runs through the eastern part of the city.

In June, the Japan Society of Civil Engineers estimated that massive flooding in the area would kill more than 2,000 people and cause 62 trillion yen ($550 billion) in damage.

Experts could not say how likely that scenario was. But in recent years, the government has bolstered the city’s water defenses by building dams, reservoirs and levees.

But the pace of construction is too slow, said Satoshi Fujii, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is known for pushing big infrastructure projects.

“They need to be taken care of as soon as possible,” he told Reuters.

John Coates, chairman of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the Tokyo 2020 Games, said the city should “take into account the potential for some of these disasters that seem to beset your country.”

In tacit acknowledgement that more needs to be done, the transport ministry late last month asked the finance ministry for 527 billion yen for levee reinforcement and evacuation preparation in next year’s budget. That’s a third more than the current year.

SURROUNDED BY WATER

Tokyo was last hit by major flooding in 1947, when Typhoon Kathleen inundated large swaths of the city and killed more than 1,000 people across Japan.

A survivor from that disaster, 82-year-old Eikyu Nakagawa, recalled living on the roof of his one-story house with his father for three weeks, surrounded by water. He remembered a pregnant woman who had taken refuge in a two-story house next door.

FILE PHOTO: Eikyu Nakagawa talks about flood preparation on a bank along the Nakagawa River near his house during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

FILE PHOTO: Eikyu Nakagawa talks about flood preparation on a bank along the Nakagawa River near his house during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

“The baby could come any minute, but we could not bring a midwife to her or take her to a doctor,” he said. “I was just a kid, but I lost sleep worrying that she might die.”

A similar disaster today would be much worse, Nakagawa predicted, because the area around his house in Tokyo’s eastern Katsushika ward, once surrounded by rice paddies, is now packed with buildings.

“It’s going to be terrible,” he said. “Now it’s so crowded with houses. Little can be done if water comes.”

Intense rainfall is on the upswing across Japan. Downpours of more than 80 millimeters in an hour happened 18 times a year on average over the 10 years through 2017, up from 11 times between 1976-85.

Warming global temperatures contribute to these bouts of extreme weather, scientists say.

“Higher ocean temperatures cause more moisture to get sucked up into the air,” said University of Tokyo’s Katada. “That means a very large amount of rain falling at once, and typhoons are more likely to grow stronger.”

Just last week, western Japan was battered by Typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon to make landfall in 25 years, which killed at least 13 people and inundating the region’s biggest international airport.

FILE PHOTO: Residents of Tokyo's Katsushika ward show a floating boat which they keep for a possible flood in Tokyo, Japan August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

FILE PHOTO: Residents of Tokyo’s Katsushika ward show a floating boat which they keep for a possible flood in Tokyo, Japan August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

EVACUATION NIGHTMARE

In late August, five low-lying wards in Tokyo jointly unveiled hazard maps outlining areas at high risk of flooding, and warned that up to 2.5 million residents may need to evacuate in case of a major disaster.

The maps, which will be available to residents online and via hard copy, show how deep floodwater would likely be for each area, and how long each area would remain underwater.

But such maps were largely ignored during the deadly flooding in western Japan in July.

If a disaster hits during weekday working hours, the number of evacuees could swell to 5 million, including those from neighboring wards, says Tsuchiya – a logistical nightmare. Tokyo prefecture has grown to 14 million people, with millions more in surrounding areas.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has called for a new ministry that would focus on disaster prevention and recovery. Currently that is overseen by the Cabinet Office, which handles other disparate tasks such as laying out basic fiscal policy and nurturing technological innovation.

Companies also are waking up to the danger of floods, said Tomohisa Sashida, senior principal consultant at Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting.

“We have been often approached for quake-related business continuity plans.” he said. “But now they realize they need to keep flood risks in mind and flood-related consultations are certainly on the rise.”

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Kwiyeon Ha; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Gerry Doyle)

Indonesia relief efforts in Lombok stepped up as new quakes kill 10

Debris is seen on a road at Kayangan Port, after an earthquake hit Lombok, Indonesia, August 20, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media. Bayu Wiguna/via REUTERS

MATARAM, Indonesia (Reuters) – At least 10 people were killed by strong tremors that rocked Indonesia’s holiday island of Lombok on Sunday, authorities said following the latest in a series of earthquakes that killed hundreds and forced thousands to flee their homes in recent weeks.

Nearly 500 people have died in quakes and aftershocks since July 29 across the northern coast of the island, which lies just east of Indonesia’s top tourist destination, Bali.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman at the national disaster mitigation agency, said on Monday relief and reconstruction efforts had been “intensified”.

“The rebuilding of public facilities like hospitals and schools is being speeded up,” he said.

He said more than 100 aftershocks had been recorded since Sunday night’s magnitude 6.9 quake, which sent panicked residents into the streets and cut power and communication lines across the island.

Aftershocks ranging between magnitude 4 and 5 were continuing on Monday morning and access to some areas had been cut off by landslides triggered by the tremors, according to officials in Mataram, Lombok’s main city.

Sunday’s quake came exactly a fortnight after another 6.9 magnitude earthquake which killed around 460 people and prompted massive search, rescue and relief efforts.

Authorities estimate that the Aug.5 earthquake caused 5 trillion rupiah ($342 million) of damage on Lombok.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have been left homeless and are camped out in open fields, refusing to shelter indoors due to continuing tremors.

Aid organizations like Save The Children said they were “ready to scale up their humanitarian response”.

“The population feels like it’s had the rug pulled from under them with this new quake,” said Caroline Haga, humanitarian & emergency communications specialist with the Red Cross.

(Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin and Kanupriya Kapoor; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Hawaii volcano eruption slows to virtual halt after more than three months

FILE PHOTO: Lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – The destructive lava eruption at the foot of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has slowed to a virtual halt in recent days for the first time in over three months, geologists said on Monday, although it was too soon to tell what might happen next.

The lone volcanic fissure that was still active last week has dwindled from a fountain of molten rock to a bubbling pond of lava no longer spilling out of the blackened cone surrounding it, said Tina Neal, chief scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Levels of sulfur dioxide gas vented from the fissure, located on the lower east flank of Kilauea, about 25 miles (40 km) from its summit crater, have also dropped dramatically, she said.

The subdued activity there coincided with another major collapse in the outer wall of the summit crater last Thursday, followed by a final flurry of earthquakes before the peak of the volcano grew still.

“The system appears to have almost shut down completely over the course of a couple of days,” Neal told reporters on a conference call. She said it was “all consistent with something turning off the spigot to the surface.”

At this point, the volcanic reservoir at the bottom of the summit crater appeared “significantly drained” of magma – the term for molten rock before it erupts – that was feeding the lava vents downslope at the surface.

At the height of Kilauea’s current eruption, which began on May 3, a total of two dozen fissures had opened in the ground at the foot of the volcano, in an area scientists call the lower east rift zone. But only one vent, dubbed Fissure 8, was still active last week.

It was a river of lava from Fissure 8 that had crept eastward to the ocean, engulfing two seaside housing developments before pouring into the Pacific. Hundreds more dwellings have been swallowed closer to the eruption site.

FILE PHOTO: Lava fragments falling from lava fountains at fissure 8 are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the erupting vent, with the bulk of the fragments falling on the downwind side of the cone as it continues to feed a channelized lava flow that reaches the ocean at Kapoho during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S. June 11, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Lava fragments falling from lava fountains at fissure 8 are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the erupting vent, with the bulk of the fragments falling on the downwind side of the cone as it continues to feed a channelized lava flow that reaches the ocean at Kapoho during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S. June 11, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

The property losses marked the most destructive eruption event of Kilauea or any other volcano in Hawaii’s recorded history.

Neal said it remains to be seen whether the reduced flow at Fissure 8 will turn out to be a brief pause or an extended lull, or whether other vents will reactivate. A similar 88-day eruption in the lower east rift zone in 1955 was punctuated by one pause of five days and one lasting 16 days, Neal said.

Neal said scientists would be surprised if the summit crater produced any new major eruptions in the near future.

The current shift in volcanic activity happened as Hurricane Hector churned across the Pacific toward Hawaii, with forecasters predicting it would skirt past the southern coast of the Big Island on Wednesday.

Neal said the storm would have no effect on the volcano, except for the possibility of large steam clouds producing “white-out” conditions in areas where heavy rain falls on top of molten lava that has yet to thoroughly cool.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait)

Vertical plume of ash explodes from Hawaii volcano, hundreds ordered to leave vicinity

Volcanic gases rise from the Kilauea lava flow that crossed Pohoiki Road near Highway 132, near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garc

HONOLULU (Reuters) – A small explosion of ash erupted from the summit of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano early on Tuesday morning in a vertical plume some 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) high, the U.S. Geological Survey said, the latest outburst in a month of volcanic activity.

The agency warned that ash was drifting northwest and liable to dust anyone in the summit area. Hundreds of people have been ordered to leave the vicinity of the biggest eruption cycle in a century of one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

A news reporter takes pictures of the Kilauea lava flow that crossed Pohoiki Road near Highway 132, near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

A news reporter takes pictures of the Kilauea lava flow that crossed Pohoiki Road near Highway 132, near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

Multiple fissures continue to spew up hot lava flows, which have blocked roads and damaged dozens of buildings on Hawaii’s Big Island.

One fountain of lava rose more than 200 feet (60 meters) at times on Monday, the Geological Survey said.

Officials are on high alert for occasional earthquakes, though none have been big enough so far to trigger a tsunami.

Lava has engulfed the heads of two wells that tap into steam and gas deep in the Earth’s core at the 38-megawatt Puna Geothermal Venture. Its operator, Israeli-controlled Ormat Technologies Inc, said it had not been able to assess the damag

So far no deaths have been blamed on the eruption, though a man’s leg was shattered when he was hit by a spatter of super-dense lava.

Residents fear the wells may be explosive. Officials have said the power plant is safe but lava has never engulfed a geothermal plant anywhere in the world, creating a measure of uncertainty.

Contingency plans have been made for a possible helicopter evacuation of up to 1,000 residents in a coastal area south of the fissures should their last exit route, be blocked by lava or become unsafe due to gaping cracks, County of Hawaii officials said.

At least 82 homes have been destroyed in the southeastern corner of Big Island and about 2,000 people have been ordered evacuated since Kilauea began erupting on May 3.

(Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Lava covers potentially explosive well at Hawaii geothermal plant

Lava from the Kilauea volcano shoots out of a fissure, in the Leilani Estates near Pahoa, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garci

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Lava from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano has covered a potentially explosive well at a geothermal power station and threatened another, after flowing onto the site, officials said.

The Hawaii Civil Defense Agency said the wells “are stable and secure”, and Hawaii Governor David Ige said that the plant was “sufficiently safe” from the lava that has plowed through backyards and streets and burned dozens of homes.

But lava has never engulfed a geothermal plant anywhere in the world and the potential threat is untested, according to the head of the state’s emergency management agency. Local residents fear an explosive emission of deadly hydrogen sulfide and other gases should wells be ruptured.

The molten rock was expected to continue to flow across the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) facility, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Lava flows are seen entering the sea along the coastline during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano May 23, 2018. USGS/J. Ozbolt, Hilo Civil Air Patrol/Handout via REUTERS

Lava flows are seen entering the sea along the coastline during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano May 23, 2018. USGS/J. Ozbolt, Hilo Civil Air Patrol/Handout via REUTERS

Since Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano began a once-in-a-century-scale eruption on May 3, authorities have shutdown the plant, removed 60,000 gallons of flammable liquid, and deactivated wells that tap into steam and gas deep in the Earth’s core.

Magma has drained from Kilauea’s summit lava lake and flowed around 25 miles (40 km) east underground, bursting out of about two dozen giant cracks or fissures near the plant.

The Israeli-owned 38 megawatt plant typically provides around 25 percent of electricity on the Big Island, according to local power utility Hawaii Electric Light.

Operator Ormat Technologies Inc last week said there was no above-ground damage to the plant, but it would have to wait until the situation stabilized to assess the impact of earthquakes and subterranean lava flows on the wells.

Over the weekend, there were more than 250 earthquakes at Kilauea’s summit, with four explosions on Saturday sending ash as high as 12,000-15,000 feet, officials said.

Winds are set to shift on Monday and Tuesday, causing higher concentrations of ash and volcanic smog that will spread west and northwest to affect more populated areas, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Bravender.

Onlookers gather at the foot of the lava bed, as a lava shoots molten rock into the air, in the Leilani Estates near Pahoa, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

Onlookers gather at the foot of the lava bed, as a lava shoots molten rock into the air, in the Leilani Estates near Pahoa, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

U.S. Marine Corps and National Guard helicopters are on standby for an air evacuation if fissure activity cuts off Highway 130, the last exit route for up to 1,000 coastal residents.

More residents in some sections of the Leilani Estates neighborhood were ordered to immediately evacuate shortly before 8 p.m. “due to a fast moving lava flow from Fissure 7”, a statement from the civil defense agency said.

Officials had no information on how many residents still remained in the neighborhood or how many people might have already left. Local media has reported that about 2,000 people have already evacuated since the new eruptions began.

(Reporting by Joyln Rosa in Honolulu; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alison Williams)

U.S. Chemical Safety Board urges chemical plants to weigh disaster risks

FILE PHOTO: The flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA, which produces organic peroxides, is seen after fires were reported at the facilty after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Thursday urged chemical plants to weigh the risks of natural disasters just as they would the integrity of pipes and production equipment.

“Such facilities should perform an analysis to determine their susceptibility to extreme weather events,” the board said in its final report on a chemical fire at the Arkema SA plant in Crosby, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey in August and September 2017.

“In addition, companies should assess seismic hazard maps to determine the risk of earthquakes and consider the risk of other extreme weather such as high-wind events,” the board said in the report.

Harvey dropped five feet of water on the Crosby plant, cutting off power to low-temperature warehouses meant to keep cool organic peroxides used in plastics production.

The peroxides were placed in refrigerated trailers as a last resort to keep them from decomposing and catching fire at the plant located 27 miles east of Houston.

FILE PHOTO: A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

But when flood waters cut power to the trailers, the peroxides decomposed, heated up and caught fire, forcing the evacuation of 200 people living within a 1.5 mile radius of the plant. Twenty-one people sought treatment for exposure to fumes from the blaze.

The evacuation ended after officials set fire to the storage trailers to burn up all of the peroxides.

The board, which has no enforcement or regulatory authority, recommended Arkema develop plans for flood risks at its plants and put in place multiple, redundant systems for storing chemicals.

The CSB also recommended that the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Center for Process Safety develop guidelines so plants can evaluate risk from extreme weather.

The board said Harris County, Texas, should update training and protective equipment to emergency responders to prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Many of those exposed to the fumes from the fire were emergency responders.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Hawaii volcano spews 6 mile-high plume of ash, could blow again

Lava spattering area from an area between fissures 16 and 20 is seen in Hawaii, U.S. May 16, 2018. Picture taken on May 16, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano spewed ash nearly six miles (9 km) into the sky on Thursday and scientists warned this could be the first in a string of more violent explosive eruptions with the next possibly occurring within hours.

“This has relieved pressure temporarily,” U.S. Geological Survey geologist Michelle Coombs told a news conference in Hilo. “We may have additional larger, powerful events.”

Residents of the Big Island were warned to take shelter from the ash as toxic gas levels spiked in a small southeast area where lava has burst from the ground during the two-week eruption.

The wind could carry Kilauea’s ash plume as far as Hilo, the Big Island’s largest city and a major tourism center, the County of Hawaii Civil Defense warned in an alert.

A person is silhouetted against the light from lava in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 17, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media on May 18, 2018. KRIS BURMEISTER/via REUTERS

A person is silhouetted against the light from lava in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 17, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media on May 18, 2018. KRIS BURMEISTER/via REUTERS

“Protect yourself from ash fallout,” it said.

Some Big Island residents had feared “the big one” after Kilauea shot anvil-sized “ballistic blocks” into the visitors’ car park on Wednesday and was rocked by earthquakes that damaged buildings and cracked roads in the park that was closed last week.

But geologists said the 4:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m. EDT) explosion was not particularly large and on a par with the last series of steam-driven blasts, which took place in 1924.

“The activity is such that they can occur at any time, separated by a number of hours,” Hawaiian National Volcano Observatory Deputy Scientist-In-Charge Steve Brantley told reporters on a conference call.

Geologists said it was extremely unlikely Kilauea would have a massive eruption like that of 1790 which killed dozens of people in the deadliest eruption to occur in what is now the United States.

Kilauea’s falling lava lake has likely descended to a level at or below the water table, allowing water to run on to the top of its lava column and create steam-driven blasts, they said.

“I don’t think there is a big one that’s coming,” said University of Hawaii vulcanologist Scott Rowland.

“I think it’s going to be a series of explosions similar to the one that happened this morning, and that’s based on what happened in 1924, which is really our only analog,” he said of the nearly century old event, which lasted 2-1/2 weeks and killed one person who was hit by a “ballistic block.”

On Thursday, a 21st fissure also opened in Leilani Estates while other fissures reactivated with lava, the Hawaii Civil Defense said in an alert.

People wait in line for free dust masks in Keaau to protect themselves from volcanic ash during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

People wait in line for free dust masks in Keaau to protect themselves from volcanic ash during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

ASH MASKS

A spike in toxic sulfur dioxide gas levels closed schools around the town of Pahoa, 25 miles (40 km) east of the volcano, where lava from giant cracks has destroyed 37 homes and other structures and forced about 2,000 residents to evacuate.

A change in wind direction caused gas spewing from fissures to drift northwest towards Pahoa, prompting National guard troops to don gas masks at a nearby road intersection, according to a Reuters reporter.

Pahoa fire station recorded a “red level” of sulfur dioxide, meaning the gas would cause choking and an inability to breathe, Fenix Grange of the Hawaii Department of Health told a news conference in Hilo.

“If it’s red, it’s get out of Dodge,” she said.

There have been no deaths or serious injuries reported during the current eruption.

Civil defense workers handed out one ash mask per family member in communities close to Kilauea to protect residents from the powdered rock, which is not poisonous but causes irritation to eyes and airways.

Volunteers handed out some 5,000 dust masks in less than three hours in the community of Kea’au, north of Pahoa at one of the four distribution points that were opened on Thursday.

“It was just thick, eyes watering kinda stuff,” said Glenn Severance, 65, a resident of Hawaii Paradise Park.

“I just wanted to have something,” said Severance, adding he knew the mask would not protect against toxic volcanic gases.

An aviation red alert was in effect due to risks ash could be carried into aircraft routes and damage jet engines, USGS said. Passenger jets generally cruise at around 30,000 feet, the height of Thursday’s plume.

A geologist inspects cracks on a road in Leilani Estates, following eruption of Kilauea volcano, Hawaii May 17, 2018. United States Geological Survey (USGS)/Handout via REUTERS

A geologist inspects cracks on a road in Leilani Estates, following eruption of Kilauea volcano, Hawaii May 17, 2018. United States Geological Survey (USGS)/Handout via REUTERS

Across the Big Island, home to 200,000 residents, people were encouraged to take caution driving, as ashfall can make roads slippery, and not go outdoors unless necessary.

But by 1:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. EDT) reported ashfall was limited to only light, wet deposits about 3-4 miles (5-6 km) northwest of the summit, as rain over the volcano curbed the spread of ash.

Thursday’s eruption lasted only a few minutes, said Coombs who called it “a big event that got people’s attention, but did not have widespread impact”.

“Tall but small,” she said of Thursday’s plume.

(Additional reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Sandra Maler and Himani Sarkar)