La Palma residents grapple with devastation wrought by volcano

By Miguel Pereira and Borja Suarez

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -Residents of Spain’s La Palma were struggling on Thursday to come to terms with the devastation wrought by the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which has been ejecting a destructive cocktail of ash, smoke and lava for more than 10 days.

Carmen Rodriguez, who lost her home in the village of Todoque, was caught off guard by the advancing column of molten rock.

“We never thought that the volcano was going to reach our house, never,” she said, recalling how she rushed to salvage belongings during a last-minute evacuation before the lava engulfed her home.

“There were so many people and difficulties, there was a queue. Thankfully we were able to take the washing machine, the fridge and a cooker that I recently bought.”

“I only ask that they give us a place to live, that they give us a habitable house, nothing more,” she said.

Some 6,000 people have been evacuated and are yet to return to their houses, a local government spokesperson said on Thursday.

Since erupting on Sept. 19 the volcano has destroyed more than 800 buildings, as well as banana plantations, roads and other infrastructure.

“It’s unimaginable that this would happen, and now we are living worse days than the COVID state, which was already a bit unreal,” said Dutch national Emilie Sweerts, who has lived on the island in the Canaries archipelago for six years.

“I really thought this would be my paradise island,” she said from her jewelry store in Tazacorte, a small coastal town which the lava ploughed through on its way to the sea, wrecking houses and farms.

After meandering downhill to the coast for nearly 10 days, the lava reached the ocean just before midnight on Tuesday a kilometer west of Tazacorte and has created a rocky outcrop more than 500 meters wide.

On reaching the water, the lava cools rapidly, binding to the cliffside and enlarging the island’s territory.

Despite fears of toxic gases from the lava reacting with the seawater, authorities said the air remained safe to breathe inland.

Emergency services warned that ash thrown out from the crater was blocking sunlight and reducing visibility.

Several villages near the coastline remained locked down as a precaution but banana farmers were allowed access to their plantations to tend their crops.

Reuters correspondents on the island said the eruption appeared to have calmed from around 1000 GMT and no lava was being expelled from the crater, though smoke continued to billow out.

(Writing by Nathan Allen, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Lava, smoke and ash cover La Palma as volcano threatens banana crop

By Nacho Doce and Marco Trujillo

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -Jets of red hot lava shot into the sky on Spain’s La Palma on Thursday as a huge cloud of toxic ash drifted from the Cumbre Vieja volcano toward the mainland and jeopardized the island’s economically crucial banana crops.

Walls of lava, which turns black when exposed to the air, have advanced slowly westward since Sunday, engulfing everything in their path, including houses, schools and some banana plantations.

Farmers near the town of Todoque raced to save as much as possible of their crop, piling their trucks high with sacks of the green bananas, on which many of the islanders depend for their livelihood.

“We’re just trying to take everything we can,” said a farmer who gave his name as Roberto from the window of his pickup.

Some 15% of La Palma’s 140 million kilogram annual banana production could be at risk if farmers are unable to access plantations and tend to their crops, Sergio Caceres, manager of producer’s association Asprocan, told Reuters.

“There is the main tragedy of destroyed houses — many of those affected are banana producers or employees — but their livelihood is further down the hill,” he said. “Some farms have already been covered.”

Caceres said the farmers were already suffering losses and warned that if lava pollutes the water supply it could potentially cause problems for months to come.

The island produces around a quarter of the Canary Islands’ renowned bananas, which hold protected designation of origin status.

With more than 200 houses destroyed and thousands of evacuated people unable to return home, the Canary Islands’ regional government said it would buy two housing developments with a combined 73 properties for those made homeless. Spanish banks jointly announced they would offer vacant homes they hold across the Canaries as emergency shelter.

Property portal Idealista estimated the volcano had so far destroyed property worth around 87 million euros ($102 million).

Experts had originally predicted the lava would hit the Atlantic Ocean late on Monday but its descent has slowed to a glacial pace of around 4 meters per hour and authorities say it may stop before reaching the sea.

Volcanologists have said gases from the eruption are not harmful to health. But a plume of thick cloud now extends some 4.2 km (2.6 miles) into the air, raising concerns of visibility for flights. The airport remains open but authorities have created two exclusion zones where only authorized aircrafts can fly.

Prevailing winds are expected to propel the cloud northeast over the rest of the Canary archipelago, the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

National weather service AEMET said air quality had not been affected at surface level and ruled out acid rain falling over the mainland or the Balearic Islands and was even unlikely in Canary islands.

Local authorities have warned people to clean food and clothes to avoid ingesting the toxic ash.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez, Marco Trujillo, Nacho Doce, Jesus Aguado, Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo; Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Giles Elgood, Peter Graff and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Thousands flee as volcano erupts on Spain’s La Palma island, homes destroyed

By Borja Suarez

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -The Canary Islands’ first volcanic eruption in 50 years has forced the evacuation of about 5,000 people, including around 500 tourists, and destroyed about 100 houses, officials said on Monday.

The volcano erupted on Sunday, shooting lava hundreds of meters into the air, engulfing houses and forests, and sending molten rock towards the Atlantic Ocean over a sparsely populated area of La Palma, the most northwestern island in the Canaries archipelago.

No fatalities have been reported but the volcano was still active on Monday. A Reuters reporter saw heavy smoke coming from the volcano and houses burning.

Officials said they were hopeful they would not need to evacuate any more people.

“The lava is moving towards the coast and the damage will be material. According to experts there are about 17-20 million cubic meters of lava,” regional president Angel Victor Torres told Cadena Ser radio.

The lava flow has destroyed about 100 houses so far, Mariano Hernandez, president of La Palma’s council, told Cadena Ser.

About 20 houses were engulfed in the village of El Paso along with sections of roads, Mayor Sergio Rodriguez told state broadcaster TVE. The lava was spreading through neighboring villages, putting hundreds more at risk, he said.

A group of 360 tourists were evacuated by boat to Tenerife from the beach resort of Puerto Naos, ferry operator Fred Olsen said, and more could be transferred later in the day.

Despite the destruction, Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto told Canal Sur radio the eruption should be seen as an opportunity to entice visitors to the island.

“The island is open, if your hotel is affected we will find you another one,” she said. “Make the most of this opportunity to enjoy what nature has brought us.”

Volcanologist Nemesio Perez said there were unlikely to be fatalities as long as no-one behaved recklessly.

La Palma had been on high alert after thousands of tremors were reported over a week in Cumbre Vieja, which belongs to a chain of volcanoes that last had a major eruption in 1971 and is one of the Canaries’ most active volcanic regions.

One man was killed in 1971 as he took photographs near the lava flows. A submarine eruption occurred about 10 years ago close to the islands but caused little damage.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in La Palma on Sunday to coordinate with regional authorities and said citizens could “rest easy.” He will visit affected areas later on Monday.

Emergency services said it was unclear what path the lava would take to the ocean. Authorities had evacuated people with mobility issues from several coastal towns, including the Puerto Naos resort.

Airspace around the Canaries remained open with no visibility problems, the Enaire civil air authority said. Local airline Binter cancelled four flights but said it would resume its service later on Monday.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez in La Palma and Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo, Corina Pons, Nathan Allen in Madrid; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Nathan Allen; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Janet Lawrence)

Little food and water for Congolese fleeing volcano

By Djaffar Al Katanty

SAKE, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -Families fleeing a volcano eruption in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo said on Friday they were struggling to find enough food and water as the United Nations called for aid and warned about the risk of cholera.

At least 31 people died when Mount Nyiragongo sent a wall of lava spreading towards Goma on Saturday last week, destroying 3,000 homes along the way and cutting a major road used to bring aid to the strife-torn region.

The lava stopped just short of the city limits, but thousands more people fled early on Thursday when the government warned that the volcano, one of the world’s most active, could erupt again.

Many escaped to Sake, a town 13 miles (20 km) northwest of Goma that is prone to cholera outbreaks, UNICEF said.

People slept wherever they could – on the side of the road and inside classrooms and a church. Kabuo Asifiwe Muliwavyo, 36, told Reuters she and her seven children had not eaten since arriving on Thursday.

“They told us that there will be a second eruption and that there will be a big gas explosion,” she said as she cradled her crying one-year-old. “But since we moved, there is nothing here … We are starving.”

Around 400,000 people need support or protection, the U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF) said in a statement.

“With an increased risk of a cholera outbreak, we are appealing for urgent international assistance to avert what could be a catastrophe for children,” UNICEF’s representative in Congo, Edouard Beigbeder, said.

UNDER THE STARS

Danga Tungulo and his four children slept next to the road in Sake. Some local residents brought them water, but they had not eaten since they left Goma the previous day, he said.

“They told everyone that assistance would be organized, that money would be disbursed by the government,” said Hassan Kanga, a lawyer who fled after the eruption. “And yet, you find us under the stars.”

The evacuation order was issued around 1 a.m. local time on Thursday after radar images showed molten rock flowing under Goma.

The movement of magma caused cracks in the ground and hundreds of earthquakes, which could allow it to burst through to the surface in a fresh eruption, the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) said.

The frequency and intensity of the ground tremors had lessened in the last 24 hours, suggesting the risk of a fresh eruption was subsiding, Celestin Kasareka Mahinda of the OVG said on Friday.

“I don’t think we will have a second eruption. The problem is the risk of fractures, but the risk is small, around 20%,” he told Reuters.

Some people who had fled to Sake crowded into trucks later on Friday to return to Goma. Dozens of people who had fled in the opposite direction to neighboring Rwanda also crossed back into Congo, photos shared by the Rwandan government showed.

Congolese authorities, meanwhile, reopened the main road which was split in two by lava, the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday.

Goma is major humanitarian hub supplying aid to a region hit by decades of unrest.

(Reporting by Djaffar Al Katanty, Aaron Ross and Hereward Holland; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross and Andrew Heavens)

Alaska volcano spews thick ash cloud, triggering aviation warning

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – An Alaska volcano that has been rumbling since midsummer shot ash about 5 miles (8 km) into the sky on Sunday, triggering a warning to aviators and dusting one small fishing village, officials reported.

Shishaldin Volcano, one of the most active in Alaska, kicked out a plume of ash that satellite imagery detected as high as 28,000 feet (8,535 m) above sea level, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, the joint federal-state-university office that tracks the state’s many volcanoes.

The plume stretched about 90 miles (145 km) as of midday, blowing mostly east and over the Gulf of Alaska, said the observatory.

A sprinkling of ash was reported in the tiny Aleutian village of False Pass, about 23 miles (37 km) northeast of the Shishaldin, said David Fee, the observatory’s University of Alaska Fairbanks coordinating scientist.

“Someone reported some ash on their windshield,” he said.

False Pass has a year-round population of about 40, according to state data, but draws many more people during the summer fishing season.

Also pouring out of Shishaldin’s caldera on Sunday was a stream of red-hot lava, the observatory reported.

Shishaldin has been in an on-and-off eruptive phase since July, occasionally dribbling lava down its snowy flanks and puffing ash and steam.

Most of the ash production has been relatively minor, but Sunday’s event was serious enough to warrant a “code red” warning for air traffic to avoid the area, the second such warning in the volcano’s current eruptive phase, Fee said.

“It’s a higher plume. It’s sustained. And it’s a higher concentration,” he said.

Shishaldin, about 680 miles (1,095 km) southwest of Anchorage, is the tallest mountain in the Aleutian chain, rising to 9,373 feet (2,857 m) in elevation. The upper two-thirds of the spherical peak are usually cloaked year-round in snow and ice, according to the observatory.

It is in a cluster of frequently erupting volcanoes in the eastern Aleutians. “This is the most active region in Alaska for volcanic activity,” Fee said.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Philippines struggles to evacuate reluctant villagers near volcano

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – Nearly 40,000 people have been evacuated from near a Philippine volcano that could erupt violently at any moment, authorities said on Tuesday, but thousands more are refusing to leave or have already drifted back.

A cloud of ash and fountains of lava gushed for a third day from the crater of Taal, which lies in the middle of a lake about 70 km (45 miles) south of the center of the Philippines capital Manila.

Everyone living within 14 km (9 miles) of the volcano has been ordered to leave: potentially as many as 300,000 people, though disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal said he believed the actual number who had been there was much lower.

Officially, 38,200 have now been evacuated, the agency said.

The Taal Volcano spews ash as it continues to errupt in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Local officials complained that many others were complicating the evacuation effort by staying put.

“I had to put Talisay under lockdown to prevent residents, who were already in the evacuation centers from returning,” said Gerry Natanauan, mayor of one town that is well within the danger zone of the 311 meter (1,020-foot) volcano.

“They wanted to check their homes, possessions and animals, but they’re not supposed to do that because it is very dangerous.”

Although Taal is one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, it has a deadly history: an eruption in 1911 killed more than 1,300 people.

Several new fissures have opened, emitting plumes of steam, while dozens of tremors were felt as far as in Tagaytay city, a popular tourist destination 32 km (20 miles) away.

RISK OF DEVASTATION

If an eruption happened, nobody would be able to return to their homes because they would be devastated, said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs).

“The threat is really real,” he told a media briefing.

However, many refused to heed the warnings.

In part of Balete town, which sits on the edge of the danger zone, Red Cross trucks were sent to bring out 1,000 residents, but they left with only 130 because people thought they were far enough from the volcano, local authorities said.

No casualties have been reported so far, and seismologists said there was a chance this eruption could subside, but the signs still point to an imminent explosion.

Visiting the area on Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte joked that the government could try a traditional way to calm the volcano down.

“You should go there and, you know, say a little prayer and offer something. Let’s go by the primitive way of doing it just like what our forefathers would do,” he was quoted as saying by the Inquirer.Net website.

Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, most recently in 1977. A 1754 eruption lasted for months. The Philippines lies on the “Ring of Fire”, a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.

In Manila, government offices reopened on Tuesday after being closed on Monday because of a fine layer of ash that drifted from the volcano, but schools remained shut and many people still wore face masks.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Alex Richardson)

Thousands evacuated as Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts

A general view shows Fuego volcano (Volcano of Fire) erupting as seen from San Juan Alotenango, outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated on Monday from areas around Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, which began violently erupting overnight, the country’s disaster agency Conred said.

The volcano spewed out dangerous flows of fast-moving clouds of hot ash, lava and gas early Monday and more than 2,000 people had taken refuge in shelters so far, officials from the agency told reporters. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

More dangerous flows of hot ash and lava could be expelled, said Juan Pablo Oliva, the head of the country’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh.

In June, explosive flows from Fuego killed more than 190 people.

This is the fifth eruption so far this year of the 3,763-meter (12,346-feet) volcano, one of the most active in Central America, about 19 miles (30 km) south of Guatemala City.

(Reporting by Enrique Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio)

Geologists eye Hawaii volcano for signs eruption may be easing

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

(Reuters) – Geologists are keeping a close eye on the crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano and a lava-spouting cone on its flank for possible signs a nearly three-month eruption may be slowing.

Up until Thursday, Kilauea had not had an explosion in 53 hours, the longest break in such activity since May, government geologists said on the last in a series of regularly scheduled news briefings since the eruption began on May 3.

Down Kilauea’s east side, a lava channel flowing from its fissure 8 cone has turned sluggish and its level has dropped, said U.S. Geological Survey geologist Janet Babb.

Could the lava eruption in the southeast corner of Hawaii’s Big Island be easing after destroying over 700 houses and forcing thousands to flee their homes?

“That really is the million-dollar question right now,” said Babb. “We’re watching this closely. I think it all depends what we see after the next collapse (explosion) event.”

Right on cue, a collapse explosion came during the news briefing, kicking out the equivalent energy of a 5.4 magnitude earthquake.

It was the 58th such event in the current eruption cycle as magma steadily drains from the volcano’s summit lava reservoir, causing its crater to collapse.

The USGS released a report last week saying the eruption could last months or years and a main hazard was a possible collapse of fissure 8, or a blockage or breach in its lava channel, that could send some or all lava in a new direction.

Geologist Rick Hazlett of the University of Hawaii at Hilo said material breaking off the cone had so far been flushed down the channel in “lava bergs.”

He did not see any more structures in danger, other than the Pohoiki boat landing, which is 500 feet (152 meters) from the lava.

“We’re not very worried at the moment about the loss of further facilities,” said Hazlett. “This can be maintained for many months without the risks of a major diversion.”

As to whether crater explosions are winding down, Babb said it was too early to say.

“We need to wait and watch and see how the next collapses occur, to see if this interval between collapses is indeed increasing, or if this was an anomaly,” she said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

Lava tours stir mixed feelings around erupting Kilauea

FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU(Reuters) – Shane Turpin has for years taken tourists on boat rides to see lava oozing lazily down Kilauea’s slopes and into the Pacific Ocean several miles away.

But when the river of molten rock burned down his and his neighbors’ houses after the volcano erupted in May, he briefly stopped the tours.

“When the houses on the coastline were burning, we took those ships off,” said Turpin, 39, who runs Lava Ocean Tours out of Hilo. “Those were my neighbors, I actually lived there.”

But like many on the island trying to rebuild a life amid the destruction, he went back to work, catering to increased demand from tourists eager to witness the latest eruption of one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

“Life always provides different opportunities; you either accept things and go forward with them or you don’t,” he said.

Kilauea has shown no signs of quieting since it first began erupting on May 3. Lava spewing from “Fissure 8” has wiped out scores of homes in Kapoho by the Pacific. Scenic Kapoho Bay, a stop along Turpin’s tours, is now filled with lava.

And, after a short respite, “lava tourism” is booming on the Big Island, with helicopter and boat tour operators trying to please tourists and show respect for thousands of locals who have lost homes or been evacuated.

LAVA TOUR BOOM

Lava tourism has long existed on Hawaii’s Big Island. Visitor numbers spike each time Kilauea, which has erupted almost continuously since 1983, sends a tongue of lava toward the ocean. The current eruption is one of the longest and most intense on record.

Visitor arrivals to the Big Island fell by 1.6 percent in May year-on-year after the eruption, after several cruise ships canceled port calls at Hilo and Kona, the island’s two main cities, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said. Yet tourist spending actually increased by 3.3 percent to $173.9 million in May.

Figures for June have not yet been released.

Boat tours cost around $220 per person, with at least two other outfits competing with Turpin. Half a dozen companies also offer helicopter tours starting at around $300 per seat.

Residents have mixed feelings about noisy tour helicopters that fly over traumatized communities like Leilani Estates and Kapoho Vacationland, which lost hundreds of homes.

“They have helicopters starting as early as six in the morning and they go all day,” said Rob Guzman, 47, an evacuee and guesthouse operator, who recently returned to his Kalapana home after an access road was reopened.

“At the same time, it’s putting more money into the local economy when we’ve been hit very hard,” he added.

Tourists on helicopter tours will see a 180-foot (55-meter) tall lava geyser, an eight-mile 8 miles (13-km) river of molten rock from fissure 8 cascading toward the sea, and a newly made volcanic wasteland pockmarked with the remains of over 650 homes.

It was something Seattle tourist Steve Gaffin could not resist.

“I feel sorry for all the people who’ve lost their homes,” said Gaffin, who planned to see the eruption on a visit to the island with his wife. But he added, “Why would you want to miss this? This is exciting!”

People can only witness the lava from the air or the sea. All lava flow hiking tours have been stopped, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where Kilauea is located, is closed to visitors. Over 80 people, some of them locals, have been cited for loitering in lava zones and face penalties of up to $5,000 and a one-year jail sentence.

That leaves some evacuees, displaced and unable to the pay the cost of tours, unable to view the spectacle of lava flows that destroyed their homes or forced them to flee. They are allowed to inspect their homes at regular intervals with a civil defense escort.

“Seeing the lava is a right and part of processing the disaster,” said Hazen Komraus, head of a community association in the Kalapana area, who like many locals wants to see a ground viewing area established.

With this in mind, one helicopter tour company said it was giving any empty seats free of charge to evacuees to join the sightseeing tours and is offering them discounts if they want to hire a helicopter to survey their properties from the air.

“We’ve flown several dozen residents so far and have dozens more on the list,” said Paradise Helicopters Chief Executive Cal Dorn, adding that he also donates up to $20 per seat on tourist flights toward evacuee relief efforts.

(Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; additional reporting by Terray Sylvester and Suzanne Barlyn in Pahoa; additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis)

Scientists defy ‘force of nature’ to unlock secrets of Hawaii volcano

A USGS geologist making observations of the fissure 8 lava channel at sunset is pictured in this July 3, 2018 fisheye lens handout photograph near the Kilauea volcano eruption in Hawaii, U.S. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester and Jolyn Rosa

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Dressed in heavy cotton, a helmet and respirator, Jessica Ball worked the night shift monitoring “fissure 8,” which has been spewing fountains of lava as high as a 15-story building from a slope on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano.

The lava poured into a channel oozing toward the Pacific Ocean several miles away. In the eerie orange nightscape in the abandoned community of Leilani Estates, it looked like it was flowing toward the scientist, but that was an optical illusion, Ball said.

Kelly Wooten, a geologist and volcanologist at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is downloading radiometer data on rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater in Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., December 19, 2008. Picture taken on December 19, 2008. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

Kelly Wooten, a geologist and volcanologist at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is downloading radiometer data on rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater in Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., December 19, 2008. Picture taken on December 19, 2008. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

“The volcano is doing what it wants to. … We’re reminded what it’s like to deal with the force of nature,” said Ball, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists have been in the field measuring the eruptions 24 hours a day, seven days a week since Kilauea first exploded more than two months ago. They are a mix of USGS staff, University of Hawaii researchers and trained volunteers working six-to-eight-hour shifts in teams of two to five.

They avoid synthetics because they melt in the intense heat and wear gloves to protect their hands from sharp volcanic rock and glass. Helmets protect against falling lava stones, and respirators ward off sulfur gases.

This is not a job for the faint hearted. Geologists have died studying active volcanoes. David Alexander Johnston, a USGS volcanologist was killed by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. In 1991, American volcanologist Harry Glicken and his French colleagues Katia and Maurice Krafft were killed while conducting avalanche research on Mount Unzen in Japan.

Ball, a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, located in upstate New York near the Canadian border, compared Kilauea’s eruptions to Niagara Falls.

“It gives you the same feeling of power and force,” she said.

A geologist is collecting sample of molten lava from 2011 Kamoamoa eruption, at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., March 6, 2011. Picture taken on March 6, 2011. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

A geologist is collecting sample of molten lava from 2011 Kamoamoa eruption, at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., March 6, 2011. Picture taken on March 6, 2011. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

WORTH THE RISKS

Kilauea, which has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, is one of the world’s most closely monitored volcanoes, largely from the now-abandoned Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at the summit. But the latest eruption is one of Kilauea’s biggest and could prove to be a bonanza for scientists.

Ball and the USGS teams are studying how the magma – molten rock from the earth’s crust – tracks through a network of tubes under the volcano in what is known as the “Lower East Rift Zone,” before ripping open ground fissures and spouting fountains of lava.

They are trying to discover what warning signs may exist for future eruptions to better protect the Big Island’s communities, she said.

Fissure 8 is one of 22 around Kilauea that have destroyed over 1,000 structures and forced 2,000 people to evacuate. They are what make this volcanic eruption a rare event, Ball said.

“They’re common for Kilauea on a geologic time scale, but in a human time scale it’s sort of a career event,” she said.

Meanwhile, the summit is erupting almost every day with steam or ash, said Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for the County of Hawaii, where Kilauea is located.

Scientists had thought the steam explosions resulted from lava at the summit dropping down the volcano’s throat into groundwater. This was based on Kilauea’s 1924 eruption, to which the current one is most often compared.

But the explosions this time have released lots of sulfur dioxide gas, which means magma is involved, said Michael Poland, scientist-in-charge at Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, one of many volcanologists seconded to Kilauea.

“So we have already made a conceptual leap, leading us to believe it was different from what we had understood,” he said.

Poland and other scientists pulled equipment and archives out of the abandoned observatory at the volcano summit after hundreds of small eruption-induced quakes damaged the structure, and have decamped to the University of Hawaii in Hilo on the Big Island.

The archives included photos, seismic records and samples, some 100 or more years old, Poland said. “These materials are invaluable to someone who says, ‘I have this new idea, and I want to test it using past data.'”Now the second longest Kilauea eruption on record, surpassed only by one in 1955, this eruption offers far better research opportunities than previous events, Ball said.

“We’ve got much better instruments and we’ve got longer to collect the data,” she said.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester and Jolyn Rosa; writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Leslie Adler)