Russia rocket accident likely had two explosions, Norway monitor says

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a board on a street of the military garrison located near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk Region, Russia October 7, 2018. The board reads: "State Central Naval Range". Picture taken October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Yakovlev

OSLO (Reuters) – An explosion that killed five Russian scientists during a rocket engine test this month was followed by a second blast two hours later, the likely source of a spike in radiation, Norway’s nuclear test-ban monitor said on Friday.

The second explosion was likely from an airborne rocket powered by radioactive fuel, the Norsar agency said – though the governor of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, where the blast took place, dismissed reports of another blast.

“The aftermath of the incident does not carry any threat,” the governor, Igor Orlov, told the Interfax news agency. “Everything else is yet another round of disinformation.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Reuters on Friday.

There has been contradictory information about the Aug. 8 accident near the White Sea in far northern Russia and its consequences.

Russia’s Defence Ministry initially said background radiation remained normal, while the state weather agency said radiation levels had risen.

Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said on Aug. 10 the accident involved “isotope power sources” but did not give further details.

Rosatom has acknowledged that five of its workers were killed. Two military personnel were also reported to have been killed.

Norway’s DSA nuclear safety authority said on Aug. 15 it had found tiny amounts of radioactive iodine near Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, although it could not say whether it was linked to the Russian accident.

Norsar’s detection of a second blast was first reported by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.

“We registered two explosions, of which the last one coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” Norsar Chief Executive Anne Stroemmen Lycke told Reuters. She added that this likely came from the rocket’s fuel.

The second explosion was detected only by infrasonic air pressure sensors and not by the seismic monitors that pick up movements in the ground, she added.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Ros Russell and Andrew Heavens)

Tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman fuel security, oil supply fears

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

By Lisa Barrington and Rania El Gamal

DUBAI (Reuters) – Attacks on two oil tankers on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman left one ablaze and both adrift, shipping firms said, driving oil prices up 4% over worries about Middle East supplies.

The Front Altair was on fire in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran after an explosion that a source blamed on a magnetic mine. The crew of the Norwegian vessel were picked up by a vessel in the area and passed to an Iranian rescue boat.

A second Japanese-owned tanker was abandoned after being hit by a suspected torpedo, the firm that chartered the ship said. The crew were also picked up.

The attacks were the second in a month near the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway for world oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for last month’s attacks using limpet mines on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a charge Tehran denies.

There were no immediate statements apportioning blame after Thursday’s incidents.

“We need to remember that some 30% of the world’s (seaborne) crude oil passes through the straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk,” said Paolo Amico, chairman of INTERTANKO tanker association.

Tensions have risen since President Donald Trump, who has demanded Tehran curb its military programs and influence in the Middle East, pulled the United States out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Thursday’s attacks came as Shinzo Abe – prime minister of U.S. ally Japan, a big importer of Iranian oil until Washington ratcheted up sanctions – was visiting Tehran with a message from Trump. Abe urged all sides not to let tensions escalate.

The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet said it was assisting the two tankers on Thursday after receiving distress calls. Britain said it was “deeply concerned” about Thursday’s reported explosions and was working with partners on the issue.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described Thursday’s incidents as “suspicious” on Twitter, noting they occurred during Abe’s Tehran visit. The minister called for regional dialogue.

Oman and the United Arab Emirates, which both have coastlines along the Gulf of Oman, did not immediately issue any public comment.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both majority Sunni Muslim nations with a long-running rivalry with predominantly Shi’ite Iran, have previously said attacks on oil assets in the Gulf pose a risk to global oil supplies and regional security.

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

EXPLOSION

Bernhard Schulte Ship management said the Kokuka Courageous was damaged in a “suspected attack” that breached the hull above the waterline while transporting methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore.

It said the ship was afloat and the crew safe with one minor injury reported.

A shipping broker said the blast that struck the Kokuka Courageous might have been caused by a magnetic mine. “Kokuka Courageous is adrift without any crew on board,” the source said.

Japan’s Kokuka Sangyo, owner of the Kokuka Courageous, said its ship was hit twice over a three-hour period.

Taiwan’s state oil refiner CPC said the Front Altair, owned by Norway’s Frontline, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” around 0400 GMT carrying a Taiwan-bound cargo of 75,000 tonnes of petrochemical feedstock naphtha, which Refinitiv Eikon data showed had been picked up from Ruwais in the UAE.

Frontline said its vessel was on fire but afloat, denying a report by the Iranian news agency IRNA that the vessel had sunk.

Front Altair’s 23-member crew abandoned ship after the blast and were picked up by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel. The crew was then passed to an Iranian rescue boat, Hyundai Merchant Marine said in a statement.

Iranian search and rescue teams picked up 44 sailors from the two damaged tankers and took them to the Iranian port of Jask, Iran’s IRNA reported.

Thursday’s attacks came a day after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis fired a missile on an airport in Saudi Arabia, injuring 26 people. The Houthis also claimed an armed drone strike last month on Saudi oil pumping stations.

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei told Abe during his visit to Iran that Tehran would not repeat its “bitter experience” of negotiating with the United States, state media reported.

“I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” the Iranian leader said.

(Reporting by Koustav Samanta and Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore, Liang-Sa Loh and Yimou Lee in Taipei, Terje Solsvik in Oslo, Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and Jonathan Saul in London; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alison Williams)

Explosion danger: U.S. marijuana oil labs pose deadly, destructive hazard

A suburban home that was the site of a hash oil extraction laboratory explosion is seen in the Mira Mesa area of San Diego, California, U.S., May 5, 2019. San Diego-Fire Rescue Department/Handout via REUTERS

By Andy Sullivan

SAN DIEGO(Reuters) – On the afternoon of May 5, college student John Nothdurft was watching TV at his suburban San Diego home when a series of explosions shook the house. Around the corner, on Sunny Meadow Street, flames billowed from a neighbor’s garage.

A man was running down the street. He was on fire.

Nothdurft, 18, tried to comfort the man as a neighbor sprayed him with a garden hose. “His skin kind of looked like it had melted off,” he recalled.

Investigators quickly determined the cause of the blaze: a butane-gas explosion resulting from an illegal attempt to make a concentrated form of marijuana. Known as hash oil or honey oil, the product can be consumed in vape pens, candies, waxes and other forms that are increasingly popular.

The Sunny Meadow Street explosion illustrates a growing danger as marijuana moves from the counterculture to the mainstream, law enforcement officials told Reuters. With cannabis now legal for medical or recreational use in 33 states and the District of Columbia, users are discovering new ways of consuming the drug.

Nationwide, concentrated products accounted for nearly a third of the $10.3 billion legal market in September 2018, double their share in 2015, according to the New Frontier Data research firm.

In states like California and Colorado, where marijuana use is legal, state-licensed producers of hash oil use sophisticated systems that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But those seeking to make hash oil at home don’t have to spend that much. YouTube videos demonstrate how to strip the psychoactive THC compounds from marijuana using a PVC pipe, a coffee filter and a $4 can of butane.

Production is surging on the black market – especially in California, where the legal market is still dwarfed by an underground network that supplies users across the country.

A “dab” of hash oil can contain up to 90 percent THC – more than four times the strength of typical marijuana buds.

“I will never forget my first time I ever took a dab,” said Sabrina Persona, assistant manager at Harbor Collective, a licensed marijuana dispensary in San Diego. “It’s some pretty strong, pretty concentrated stuff.”

Making hash oil can be lucrative – Persona pointed to a small jar retailing for $45 – but it is also risky. Odorless and heavier than air, butane can build up quickly in enclosed spaces – until a spark from a refrigerator motor or a garage-door opener sets off an explosion that can knock a house off its foundation or destroy an apartment building.

Nationwide, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it received reports of 260 illegal hash-oil labs in 2017, a 38 percent increase from 2016. A quarter of those labs were discovered because they caught on fire, according to the agency’s annual drug threat assessment.

Those figures are far from comprehensive, as law enforcement agencies aren’t required to provide reports to the DEA’s national database.

Even in California, which accounted for two-thirds of all reported Illegal hash-oil labs in 2017, officials could be undercounting the problem. Child-safety advocate Sue Webber-Brown estimates more than 40 adults and three children were injured from hash-oil lab explosions in the state in 2016 – far higher than the official DEA tally of 16 injuries.

Even so, the DEA reports that at least 19 people have been killed and 126 people injured by hash-oil fires in California since 2014.

“A WHOLE GARAGE OF AMMUNITION”

On Sunny Meadow Street, the inferno blew a garage door 20 feet off its hinges and melted the windshield of a car. Dozens of butane cans exploded. “Boom, bang, boom bang. I thought it was a whole garage of ammunition,” said Ken Heshler, 80, a neighbor. Three people were taken to the hospital with severe burns.

The DEA says it discovered $75,000 worth of hash oil on the scene. The agency says it expects to bring criminal charges against those involved.

According to the DEA, its first report of an illicit hash-oil lab came in 2005, in Oakland, Calif. By 2013, the U.S. Fire Administration was warning that explosions stemming from hash-oil production appeared to be increasing.

Since then, officials say, the problem has grown worse. Narcotics officers in California say that the operations they encounter now tend to be larger than the home labs that proliferated earlier in the decade – with the amount of explosive chemicals measured in barrels, rather than milliliters.

These solvents “want to go boom – they don’t want to be confined, and with the slightest kind of nudge they’re going to explode, said Karen Flowers, special agent in charge of the DEA’s San Diego office.

Less than two weeks after the explosion on Sunny Meadow Street, Flowers’ office responded to another hash-oil fire in the suburb of El Cajon. That operation contained more than a dozen 55-gallon drums of hexane, another volatile solvent. Firefighters were able to control the blaze before the chemicals exploded.

The DEA also raided four other illegal hash-oil labs in the region, including one they said was capable of producing nearly a half million dollars worth of product every two days.

Explosions have been reported across the United States and Canada. In Battle Creek, Michigan, 80 people were left homeless after one destroyed an apartment building in July 2018.

In Michigan’s rural northeast corner, the Huron Undercover Narcotics Team routinely finds hash-oil equipment when it raids illegal growing operations, Detective Lieutenant Stuart Sharp said.

“The more people growing marijuana, the more people are going to experiment with this kind of thing and the more explosions and deaths we’re going to see,” he said.

SEARCHING FOR SOLUTIONS

Public-safety officials interviewed by Reuters say sales restrictions on butane could limit explosions from makeshift hash oil labs, just as limits on chemicals used in methamphetamine production have helped to curtail domestic production of that drug.

The California legislature voted for statewide limits in 2017, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the measure, saying the legitimate hash-oil industry should be given a chance to comply with impending regulations.

Since recreational marijuana sales became legal in 2018, the state has licensed 154 businesses to use butane or other explosive solvents to produce marijuana concentrates. Licensed businesses pay fees of up to $75,000 per year and must use equipment that keeps solvents contained. They must pass a fire-code inspection and train employees on safety standards.

The risk remains. California regulators fined a licensed producer $50,000 in December 2018 after a propane explosion badly burned a worker.

Chris Witherell, an industry consultant, says most of the hundreds of hash-oil operations he has inspected don’t pass the first time he visits. “Equipment is often poorly assembled or operating with incorrect parts,” he said.

Flowers said the DEA has dismantled 18 illegal hash-oil labs in San Diego this year, putting it on pace to nearly double the number in 2018.

“I’m extremely concerned about what the next six months are going to hold,” she said.

(Editing by Kieran Murray and Julie Marquis)

Toyota recalls 1.7 million vehicles worldwide over air bag inflators

Toyota Motor Corp's logo is pictured on a car in Tokyo, Japan, November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp said Wednesday it is recalling another 1.7 million vehicles worldwide for potentially faulty Takata airbag inflators as part of a multi-year industry recall campaign announced in 2016.

Automakers are adding about 10 million vehicle inflators in the United States to what was already the largest-ever recall campaign in history. Last week, Ford Motor Co said it was recalling 953,000 vehicles worldwide for Takata inflators. Previously, 37 million U.S. vehicles with 50 million inflators were recalled and 16.7 million inflators remain to be replaced.

At least 23 deaths worldwide have been linked to the rupturing of faulty Takata air bag inflators, including 15 in the United States.

Toyota’s new recall relates to vehicles from the 2010 through 2015 model years, and includes 1.3 million vehicles in the United States.

More than 290 injuries worldwide have been linked to Takata inflators that could explode, spraying metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks. In total, 19 automakers are recalling more than 100 million potentially faulty inflators worldwide.

To date, 21 deaths have been reported in Honda Motor Co vehicles and two in Ford vehicles. Both automakers have urged some drivers of older vehicles not to drive them until the inflators are replaced.

The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June 2017. In April, auto components maker Key Safety Systems completed a $1.6 billion deal to acquire Takata. The merged company, known as Joyson Safety Systems, is a subsidiary of Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp.

Automakers in the United States repaired more than 7.2 million defective Takata airbag inflators in 2018 as companies ramped up efforts to track down parts in need of replacement, according to a report released last month.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Bernadette Baum)

Venezuela arrests six over drone explosions during Maduro speech

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with government officials the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela August 4, 2018. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities said on Sunday they have detained six people over drone explosions the day before at a rally led by President Nicolas Maduro, as his critics warned the socialist leader would use the incident to crack down on adversaries.

People look at the damage in a building after an explosion in Caracas, Venezuela August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Adriana Loureiro

People look at the damage in a building after an explosion in Caracas, Venezuela August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Adriana Loureiro

The suspects launched two drones laden with explosives over an outdoor rally Maduro was holding in downtown Caracas to commemorate the National Guard, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said. One was “diverted” by security forces while the second fell on its own and hit an apartment building, Reverol

said.

The attack highlights Maduro’s challenges in maintaining control over the OPEC nation, where widespread food and medicine shortages have fueled outrage and despair everywhere from hillside slums to military barracks.

“These terrorist acts represent a slap in the face to the expressed desire of the President of the Republic, Nicolas Maduro, for national reconciliation and dialogue,” Reverol said in a statement read on state television.

State television footage of the rally showed Maduro startled by what appeared to be an explosion and footage later panned to soldiers lined up on a boulevard who chaotically broke ranks in what appeared to be a reaction to a second blast.

Venezuela's Interior and Justice Minister Nestor Reverol speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 5, 2018. Ministry of Interior and Justice/Handout via REUTERS

Venezuela’s Interior and Justice Minister Nestor Reverol speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 5, 2018. Ministry of Interior and Justice/Handout via REUTERS

The president later described the attack, which injured seven soldiers, as an assassination attempt.

One of the suspects had an outstanding arrest warrant for involvement in a 2017 attack on a military base that killed two people, Reverol said, an incident that followed four months of anti-government protests.

A second suspect had been detained during a wave of anti-Maduro protests in 2014 but had been released through “procedural benefits,” Reverol said, without offering details.

He did not name the suspects.

The arrests suggest the attack was less a military uprising than an assault led by groups linked to anti-Maduro street protesters, dubbed “The Resistance,” who have led two waves of violent demonstrations that left hundreds dead.

That is consistent with the shadowy group that claimed responsibility for the attack, The National Movement of Soldiers in T-Shirts, whose website says it was created in 2014 to bring together different groups of protesters.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the involvement of the group, which did not respond to requests for comment on the arrest announcements or identify any of its members.

‘I SAW THE LITTLE PLANE’

Bolivar Avenue of downtown Caracas, where the incident took place, was calm on Sunday.

Joggers and cyclists were taking up two of the lanes that are traditionally used for weekend recreation. The stage where Maduro spoke had been removed.

Witnesses said they heard and felt an explosion in the late afternoon, then saw a drone fall out of the sky and hit a nearby building.

“I heard the first explosion, it was so strong that the buildings moved,” said Mairum Gonzalez, 45, a pre-school teacher. “I went to the balcony and I saw the little plane … it hit the building and smoke started to come out.”

Two witnesses said they later saw security forces halt a black Chevrolet and arrest three men inside it.

The security forces later took apart the car and found what appeared to be remote controls, tablets, and computers, said the two, who identified themselves as Andres and Karina, without giving their last names.

Opposition critics accuse Maduro of fabricating or exaggerating security incidents to distract from hyperinflation and Soviet-style product shortages.

Leopoldo Lopez, formerly mayor of Caracas’ district of Chacao, for example, is under house arrest for his role in 2014 street protests that Maduro described as a coup attempt but his adversaries insisted were a form of free expression.

“We warn that the government is taking advantage of this incident … to criminalize those who legitimately and democratically oppose it and deepen the repression and systematic human rights violations,” wrote the Broad Front opposition coalition in a statement published on Twitter.

Maduro’s allies counter that the opposition has a history of involvement in military conspiracies, most notably in the 2002 coup that briefly toppled socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

“I have no doubt that everything points to the right, the Venezuelan ultra-right,” Maduro said on Saturday night. “Maximum punishment! And there will be no forgiveness.”

Maduro, who blames the country’s problems on an “economic war” led by adversaries, during the course of his five-year rule has often announced having foiled military plots against him that he says are backed by Washington.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton told Fox News in an interview on Sunday that the United States was not involved in the blast.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer,; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott)

At least 15 killed as gunmen attack Afghan government building

An Afghan policeman inspects the site of an attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

By Ahmad Sultan and Abdul Qadir Sediqi

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) – At least 15 people were killed on Tuesday in Afghanistan’s eastern city of Jalalabad when gunmen stormed a government building, trapping dozens inside after a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance gate, officials and witnesses said.

The attack underlines the country’s dire security situation after 17 years of war, with Islamic State increasingly claiming attacks on civilian targets even as pressure builds for peace talks between the Western-backed government and the Taliban.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though the Taliban issued a statement denying involvement.

After several hours during which intermittent gunfire and explosions could be heard, provincial government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said the incident appeared to be over with two gunmen killed and much of the building destroyed.

He said at least 15 people had been killed and 15 wounded although the total may rise as rescue workers search the site. Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the local provincial council, said eight had been killed and as many as 30 wounded.

One witness, a passerby named Obaidullah, said the attack began when a black car with three occupants pulled up at the entrance to a building used by the department of refugee affairs and a gunman emerged, firing around him.

One attacker blew himself up at the gate and two gunmen entered the building, in an area close to shops and government offices, he added.

Minutes later, the car blew up, wounding people in the street, Obaidullah said.

“We saw several people wounded and helped to carry them away,” he added.

As security forces cordoned off the area, gunshots and what appeared to be hand grenade explosions could be heard as a cloud of black smoke drifted into the sky.

Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the local provincial council, said about 40 people appeared to have been caught inside the building, which caught fire early in the attack.

As the attack concluded, it was not immediately clear what had happened to them. Islamic State has claimed a number of recent attacks in the city.

Smoke rises from an area where explosions and gunshots were heard, in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

Smoke rises from an area where explosions and gunshots were heard, in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

Khogyani said the attack happened during a meeting with NGOs working on refugee-related issues. The head of the department and several other people were taken to safety, he said.

Although it is unclear whether there is any direct connection, Islamic State attacks have picked up as hopes for peace talks between the government and the Taliban have grown in the wake of last month’s three-day ceasefire.

The attacks have been concentrated in Jalalabad, the main city of Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan where Islamic State fighters first appeared toward the end of 2014.

The casualties add to a mounting toll in Afghanistan. In the western province of Farah, 11 people were killed when their bus was hit by a roadside bomb, officials said.

Also on Tuesday, unknown attackers seized 22 people from vehicles on a highway linking Kabul and Gardez, a key city in the eastern province of Paktia.

(Additional reporting by Rafiq Shirzad; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Rivers of lava destroy 600 homes on Hawaii’s Big Island: mayor

Lava destroys homes in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Approximately 600 homes have been swallowed by lava flows from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island since early last month, marking its most destructive eruption in modern times, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said on Thursday.

The latest estimate of property losses from Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, far surpasses the 215 structures consumed by lava during an earlier eruption cycle that began in 1983 and continued nearly nonstop over three decades.

Kim said Kilauea, one of five volcanoes on the Big Island, formally known as the Island of Hawaii, has never destroyed so many homes before in such a short period of time.

The latest volcanic eruption, which entered its 36th day on Thursday, stands as the most destructive in the United States since at least the cataclysmic 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state that reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland, according to geologist Scott Rowland, a volcano specialist from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

A similar, extremely violent eruption from Fuego volcano in Guatemala this week killed more than 100 people as it ejected deadly super-heated “pyroclastic” flows of lava and ash through nearby towns.

The latest damage appraisal from Kilauea came moments after Governor David Ige, on a visit to Hawaii County Civil Defense headquarters in Hilo, the island’s biggest city, signed a memorandum of understanding furnishing $12 million in immediate state disaster relief to the island.

Ige and Kim also announced formation of a task force of federal, state and local officials to devise a recovery plan for communities devastated by the eruption, with an eye toward preventing such major property losses in the future.

“Our responsibility is to try to work with the community to rebuild out of harm’s way,” Kim said.

County civil defense officials had a day earlier put the confirmed number of homes destroyed during the past month at 130, all of them in and around the Leilani Estates community, where lava-spouting fissures opened up on the volcano’s eastern flank on May 3.

Lava flows across a highway on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava flows across a highway on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

More recently a huge river of lava that has crept several miles across the landscape to the eastern tip of the island engulfed two entire seaside housing subdivisions – Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland.

Over the course of about three days, a rolling wall of molten rock measuring half-mile across and 10- to 15-feet tall buried hundreds of homes, while vaporizing a small freshwater lake and filling in an inlet called Kapoho Bay, extending about a mile out from what had been the shoreline.

Kim said Vacationland, a private development believed to comprise roughly 160 homes, was completely erased, and that at least 330 houses were devoured by lava at Kapoho Beach Lots. The rest were

The rest of the losses have occurred in the Leilani Estates area, where the toll of destruction has been steadily rising by the day.

“So if you combine the three of them (Kapoho, Vacationland and Leilani), we’re talking about 600 homes,” he told reporters. “I’m talking about 600 families. Don’t forget the farmers, don’t forget the ranchers, don’t forget all the employees for them.”

An estimated 2,500 people have been displaced by evacuations across the island since the eruption began five weeks ago, spouting fountains of lava and high concentrations of toxic sulfur dioxide gas through about two dozen volcanic fissures at the foot of the volcano.

Plumes of volcanic ash belched into the air by periodic daily explosions from the crater at Kilauea’s summit have posed an additional nuisance and health hazard to nearby communities.

So too have airborne volcanic glass fibers, called “Pele’s Hair,” wispy strands carried aloft by the wind from lava fountains and named for the volcanic goddess of Hawaiian myth.

Seaside residents and boaters also have been warned to avoid noxious clouds of laze – a term derived from the words “lava” and “haze” – formed when lava reacts with seawater to form a mix of acid fumes, steam and glass-like particles when it flows into the ocean.

Frequent earthquakes, mostly of relatively small magnitude but numbering in the thousands, have persisted throughout the eruption, adding to the jitters of residents living closest to the volcano.

In addition to destroying homes and other structures, lava flows have knocked out telephone and power lines, causing widespread communication outages, and forced the shutdown of a geothermal energy plant that normally provides about a quarter of the island’s electricity.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Pahoa; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Fast lava from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano closes highway

Lava from the Kilauea volcano shoots into the air from a fissure near Luana Street, in the Leilani Estates near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Fast-moving lava from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano forced officials to close part of a highway on Tuesday, and they warned that sharp, thin strands of volcanic glass fibers carried by the wind could injure eyes and lungs.

As lava crossed Highway 132, officials shut a stretch of road from Lava Tree State Park to Four Corners and told residents who had not evacuated to leave the area immediately.

The lava flow destroyed a farm where Kevin Hopkins and partners raise tropical fish and the ornamental carp known as koi. “It just came over and ate the farm, boiled the water out of the ponds,” Hopkins said.

Earlier on Tuesday, a small explosion of ash erupted from the summit of the volcano 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 affect anyone in the summit area. Hundreds of people have been ordered to leave the vicinity of one of the world’s most active volcanoes in its biggest eruption cycle in a century.

Lava covers Pohoiki Road near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

Lava covers Pohoiki Road near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

Kilauea entered its fourth week of what may be an unprecedented, simultaneous eruption at its summit crater and along a six-mile (9.7-km) string of fissures 25 miles (40 km) down its east flank.

Lava flows from multiple fissures have blocked roads and damaged dozens of buildings on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Lava has also destroyed more than 400 electric poles and other equipment, causing power outages, the utility Hawaii Electric Light reported. It is unclear how many homes and businesses were without power.

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 most have been small.

Lava has engulfed the heads of two wells that tap into steam and gas deep into the Earth at the 38-megawatt Puna Geothermal Venture electrical plant, which used to produce a quarter of the Big Island’s electricity. Its operator, Israeli-controlled Ormat Technologies Inc, said it had not been able to assess the damage.

So far no deaths have been blamed on the eruption, though a man’s leg was shattered when he was hit by a plate-size chunk of lava rock.

Residents fear the electrical plant’s deep geothermal 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, State Highway 130, become 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 and Marco Garcia; Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler and Darren Schuettler)

Hawaii helicopter evacuation readied as new lava stream hits ocean

After crossing Highway 137, lava pours into the ocean during the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

By Marco Garcia

PAHALA, Hawaii (Reuters) – A third lava flow from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano streamed into the ocean on Thursday as U.S. Marine Corps helicopters stood by to evacuate a Big Island community should molten rock or huge cracks block its final escape route.

Six huge fissures sent rivers of molten rock through a blackened, volcanic wilderness that was once jungle, farmland and rural homes.

After crossing Highway 137, lava pours into the ocean during the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

After crossing Highway 137, lava pours into the ocean during the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, entered the fourth week of what may be an unprecedented, simultaneous eruption at its summit crater and along a six-mile (9.7-km) string of fissures 25 miles (40 km) down its east flank.

At about 6 p.m. local time on Thursday, the volcano erupted at its summit, sending ash 10,000 feet (3000 m) into the air. The wind may carry ash to the southwest toward the Pahala area, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.

At least 50 rural homes and other structures have been destroyed by lava from fissures in a small area of the Big Island. Some 2,000 people have faced mandatory evacuations and another 2,000 in coastal communities may be forced to leave their homes if State Highway 130, their last exit, becomes blocked.

The U.S. Marine Corps deployed two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters to Hilo, about 24 miles north (39 miles), in support of a task force standing by in case an air evacuation is needed. Each helicopter can carry up to 50 people at a time.

“We now have the capacity to evacuate all of the estimated population of lower Puna south of the lava flow within a few hours,” Brigadier General Kenneth Hara of the Hawaii National Guard said in a statement.

Road crews dumped material into cracks on the road and covered them with steel plates in an effort to keep the highway open.

“Talks and discussions have been underway for possible air evacuations if it did come to that,” Tim Sakahara, Hawaii Department of Transportation, told reporters in a conference call.

Up at Kilauea’s 4,091-foot (1,246-meter) summit, at least 12 explosions a day on average are pumping ash plumes thousands of feet (meters) into the sky. Ash drifted up to 26 miles (42 km)southwest to dust the black sands of Punaluu beach with gray powder before blowing out to sea.

After crossing Highway 137, laze rises where the lava hit the ocean during the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Gar

After crossing Highway 137, laze rises where the lava hit the ocean during the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano near Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

Down on the east flank of the volcano, six fissures re-erupted in lava fountains, as volcanic activity moved west towards Highway 130.

Geologists said that after three weeks of escalating activity, Kilauea volcano has entered a “steady state” of eruption.

“It’s probably going to do this for a little while longer,” said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall on the conference call, describing the stage of the eruption as the “middle” or “kind of the steady state.”

While a roughly 10-square-mile (26-sq-km) area of the Puna district has been ravaged, authorities stressed the eruption was having limited effects on the Connecticut-sized island that is a major tourist destination.

Norwegian Cruise Line said it would reinstate port calls to the island’s two largest cities, Kona and Hilo, after cancelling them in recent weeks. Crystal Symphony cruises also said it planned to return to the two ports after cancelling a Wednesday Hilo stop due to “an abundance of caution.”

(Additional reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu and Marco Garcia in Pahala, Hawaii; Writing and additional reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

Hawaii volcano belches new ash plume as geothermal wells secured

A volcanic ash cloud hovers in the distance over the small town of Pahala during the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in Pahala, Hawaii, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

By Marco Garcia

PAHALA, Hawaii (Reuters) – The restive Kilauea Volcano belched clouds of ash into the skies over Hawaii’s Big Island twice more on Wednesday as civil defense authorities reported that pressurized geothermal wells at a nearby power plant had been spared from approaching lava.

The latest back-to-back upheavals of ash from the main summit crater of Kilauea — one before dawn and another several hours later — came on the 21st day of what geologists rank as one of the biggest eruption cycles in a century from one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

The earlier ash plume rose to a height of 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), while the later one reached about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), authorities said.

Intermittent explosions of ash from the summit, believed to be driven by underground bursts of steam deep inside the throat of the crater vent, are occurring about twice a day, with smaller blasts in between, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) vulcanologist Wendy Stovall told reporters.

The Hawaii County Civil Defense agency warned in its latest bulletin that residents downwind of Kilauea should take care to avoid exposure to ash, which can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulties, particularly in people with respiratory problems.

“The ash has just been nonstop every day since the summit has been erupting,” said Tiahti Fernandez, 24, as she sat in a car parked outside her father-in-law’s home in the tiny farming village of Pahala, 26 miles (42 km) southwest of the summit crater.

“Every day we have to wash our cars and wash down the patio because the ash just covers everything,” she said over the crowing of four roosters tethered to a chicken coop in the yard. “The air quality has been so bad that everybody has been walking around with a (dust) mask.”

A fine layer of brownish-gray ash coated vehicles and other surfaces, and an ash plume rising from the volcano summit was visible in the distance through the hazy air.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide gas, harmful if inhaled, also remained at high levels from newly opened lava-spewing fissures in the ground running through populated areas on the eastern flank of the volcano, authorities said.

“Residents in the affected area should be prepared to take leave of the area with little notice due to gas or lava inundation,” the civil defense bulletin warned.

CRISIS AVERTED AT GEOTHERMAL PLANT

One potential hazard that appeared to have been brought under control was at the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant, which provides about a quarter of the Big Island’s electricity.

Lava from an active fissure nearby had flowed onto the property early this week, posing the risk of toxic gases being released in the event molten rock encroached into any of several pressurized deep-underground wells.

Utility crews racing to quench the wells with cold water and plug them with mud had managed to mostly secure the site. The civil defense agency reported on Wednesday, “there is no immediate threat to any of the wells at PGV.”

The facility also received a respite from Mother Nature. Accumulations of cooled, hardened lava created a thick, 30-foot (9.14-meter) high wall of solid volcanic rock channeling fresh lava streams from fissures to the south, away from the PGV plant, USGS scientists said.

Authorities also were monitoring hazards from noxious clouds of acid fumes, steam and fine glass-like particles — called laze — emitted when lava flows pour into the ocean on the island’s southern end.

Laze — a term combining the words “lava” and “haze” — is formed when molten lava, reaching temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 Celsius), reacts with sea water. Although potentially fatal if inhaled, Stovall said the danger was confined to the immediate vicinity of laze plumes themselves.

Kilauea rumbled back to life on May 3 as it began extruding lava and sulfur dioxide emissions through a series of fissures, marking the latest phase of an eruption cycle that has continued nearly nonstop for 35 years.

The occurrence of new lava vents, now numbering about two dozen, have been accompanied by earthquakes and periodic eruptions from the summit crater.

At least 44 homes and other structures have been destroyed, and a man was seriously injured on Saturday when a chunk of lava shot out of a fissure and struck him in the leg.

Some 2,000 people remain under evacuation orders due to lava flows and sulfur dioxide gas. Civil defense officials said contingency plans for further evacuations were being prepared with National Guard officials in case they become necessary.

(Additional reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; Writing and additional reporting by by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler and Michael Perry)