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)

Twenty now dead in California mudslides, major highway closed

Rescue workers scour through cars for missing persons after a mudslide in Montecito.

By Caroline Anderson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The death toll from Southern California mudslides that swallowed dozens of homes and forced the closure of a major highway along the picturesque Santa Barbara County coast rose to 20 on Sunday, with four other people still reported missing.

Emergency officials said chances of finding more survivors in the ravaged landscape of hardened muck, boulders and other debris had waned considerably since heavy rains unleashed torrents of mud down hillsides before dawn last Tuesday.

Still, the 20 fatalities confirmed in and around the affluent community of Montecito, 85 miles (137 km) northwest of Los Angeles in the coastal slopes adjacent to Santa Barbara, ranks as the greatest loss of life from a California mudslide in at least 13 years.

The official death toll early on Saturday had stood at 19, with seven people listed as missing. Four remained unaccounted for on Sunday, including the 2-year-old daughter of the latest victim whose remains have been positively identified.

Ten people perished in January 2005 when a hillside saturated by weeks of torrential rains collapsed in the seaside hamlet of La Conchita, just 18 miles (29 km) southeast of Montecito, burying more than a dozen homes in seconds.

Unlike the La Conchita tragedy, the stage was set for Montecito’s slides by a massive wildfire last month — the largest on record in California — that stripped hillsides bare of any vegetation to hold soils in place following a day of drenching showers.

Another 900 emergency personnel arrived this weekend to join the relief effort conducted by more than 2,100 personnel from local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and the American Red Cross.

But authorities said on Sunday that the search-and-rescue mission had shifted into a “search-and-recovery” effort, reflecting the diminished likelihood of finding anyone else alive.

The destruction covered 30 square miles (78 square km), leaving 65 single-family homes demolished and more than 450 others damaged. Nearly 30 commercial properties were damaged or destroyed, officials said.

The slides also forced a 10-mile (16-km) stretch of one of California’s most celebrated coastal roads, the heavily traveled Highway 101, to be closed indefinitely.

The shutdown has posed a major traffic disruption, forcing motorists to drive 100 miles out of their way on back roads to commute around the closure, said Jim Shivers, a spokesman for the state transportation department.

He said parts of Highway 101 were under 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) of water and mud. Cleanup crews were working around the clock in 12-hour shifts.

Seeking to ease the detour for commuters, ferry boats were making commuter runs twice a day between Santa Barbara and the town of Ventura to the south.

A community group formed in the aftermath of last month’s devastating Thomas Fire also began coordinating free airplane and helicopter rides for doctors and emergency personnel.

As a precaution against the possibility of further slides, officials have ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito to leave their homes for what was likely to be one or two weeks.

(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Sandra Maler)

Fire collapses portion of interstate highway in Atlanta

A fire is shown out of control underneath a highway overpass on interstate 85 before a section of the highway collapsed, according to the city's fire and rescue agency in Atlanta, Georgia, March 30, 2017. Atlanta Fire Rescue/Handout via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – A bridge on Interstate 85 in Atlanta collapsed on Thursday as a fire raged beneath it, authorities said, sending black smoke into the air and briefly causing a fireball before the structure fell in on itself.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the incident, which snarled traffic for miles (km).

“We are trying to assess the damage and determine how quick we can repair it,” Republican Georgia Governor Nathan Deal told a news conference.

Black smoke billowed so thickly from the bridge in the heart of Atlanta that area residents told local media they thought a storm was coming or that the sun had set early when the fire started at around 6 p.m. local time.

Then flames rose several stories high from under the bridge before a section collapsed around 7:30 p.m., even as dozens of firefighters fought it, causing a brief fireball.

Hours after the collapse, vehicles were still stuck trying to get off the highway. Deal declared a state of emergency for Fulton County, which encompasses much of the Atlanta area. Government offices in Atlanta were set to open at 10 a.m. on Friday to give people extra time to get to work.

Deal said the fire that led to the highway collapse appeared to have been fueled by a large pile of PVC piping under the structure. Authorities did not know who owned the piping or who had put it under the bridge, Deal said.

All lanes of the freeway were blocked, and authorities urged motorists to stay away from the interstate in all directions.

“We cannot have any more traffic on the highway,” Atlanta Police Department Sergeant Warren Pickard told a news conference. “We need everyone to stay put and not travel at this time. We need the roads clear for emergency vehicles.”

Local TV images showed bright orange flames and thick black smoke billowing into the sky above the freeway as a line of cars stood halted on either side.

Traffic was jammed on nearby roads and freeways as well, according to online congestion maps.

Television station WSB-TV showed what appeared to be barrels and coils under the bridge.

The station reported that fire crews from nearby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were brought in to help and were spraying foam typically used for airplane crashes onto the flames.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler and Bill Rigby)

California Protesters Block Highways

Protesters upset over the death of a convicted criminal while he had been resisting arrest and another who attempted to take a police officer’s gun to shoot him blocked a California highway for hours Monday night.

The protesters had been marching through Berkeley in a mostly peaceful protest although some businesses suffered broken storefront windows.  After a short time, the protesters jumped a fence and blocked Interstate 80.

The protesters continued to block the highway despite a heavy police presence forcing police to stop traffic on the highway for the safety of the protesters.

The protesters were shouting, “Shut it down for Michael Brown.”

The protesters also forced an Amtrak train to stop.  The California Highway Patrol said they arrested over 150 protesters on a variety of charges.

Despite the damage and delays caused to others not connected to the Michael Brown or Eric Garner situations, protesters continued to insist the protests were only peaceful.

“I want to tell you this is a peaceful protest,” said Nisa Dang, an African-American student at U.C. Berkeley. “I want to also say this is a protest for black students, for black bodies. If they want to take the lead, let them take the lead.”

Berkeley’s mayor told the New York Times he was disappointed in the protests.

“It’s ironic that the place with probably the strongest supporters is being trashed,” said Tom Bates. “What we have are a lot of people who are outside agitators who want to disrupt and cause violence with the police.”

“[I am] totally devastated and disappointed,” Bates added.  “What could have been peaceful deteriorated into people attacking the police and doing damage.”