Kilauea volcano’s current explosions have intensified over the past week, with the alert changing from orange to a red alert for the first time and the aviation industry is on high alert for ash clouds.
Ash and volcanic smog, known as ‘vog’ has risen up to 12,000 feet (3,657 metres) above Kilauea’s crater, and southwesterly winds have pushed the clouds across the island, smothering everything in dust.
Ashfall from Kilauea is expected to reach the region southwest of the erupting volcano summit, including the neighbourhoods of Wood Valley, Pahala, Punaluu, Naalehu, and Hawaiian Oceanview Estates.
A shift in winds was expected to bring ash and vog inland on Wednesday and make them more concentrated, adding to the hazards already presented by the volcanic activity.
An “unhealthy air” advisory has been issued for the community of Pahala, as far as 18 miles from the volcano.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) Scientist Steve Brantley said: “We’re observing more or less continuous emission of ash now with intermittent, more energetic ash bursts or plumes.
“At any time, activity may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent.”
The ash itself is not poisonous, but can cause irritation to airways, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions, and can cause “choking and inability to breath” according to the HVO.
The vog can be dangerous however, with sulphur dioxide emitted by the vents present which can be fatal if exposure is excessive.
The latest red alert means that a major volcanic eruption is imminent or underway, with hazardous activity both on the ground and in the air.
There is the added worry that the ash plumes could affect aviation by spewing ash into air routes.
Since the activity began at the beginning of May, massive swathes of land have been devoured, 37 structures – most of them homes – have been destroyed, and around 2,000 people have had to flee their homes.
Kilauea has also taken its toll on the areas booming tourism industry, which sees thousands pouring into the area every month to visit the island’s volcano park.
There is also damage to main roads, threatening to create lasting damage in the area.
Lava has burst from the ground in the neighbourhoods of Pahoa, tearing through houses and farmland, threatening state Highway 132, one of the last exit routes from coastal areas.
Road crews have put metal plates over steaming cracks on nearby Highway 130 and reopened it to provide residents an escape route from the neighbourhoods bearing the brunt of this disaster.
There have been no major injuries or deaths reported from the eruption.