Lava flow stops after covering 2 wells at geothermal plant

Infrared images reveal damage on Hawaii's Big Island

An active fissure in the hard-hit Leilani Estates community began belching lava at a faster rate on Sunday, forcing some residents to evacuate and leaving one man briefly trapped in his home.

The head of the state's emergency management agency has said the potential threat from the lava reaching the geothermal plant was untested.

"The flow from fissures 21 and 7 was widening and advancing", Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for the County of Hawaii, said on the position of lava heading northeast towards PGV. But no hydrogen sulfide had been detected.

County officials said there was no release of any risky hydrogen sulfide gas, as some feared might happen if lava breached the well shafts that tap steam and hot water several thousand feet down to make electricity through turbines.

Residents have complained of health hazards from plant emissions since it went online in 1989.

The plant, Puna Geothermal, lies on the southeast flank of the volcano, nestled between residential neighborhoods.

Steve Brantley of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the flow seemed to have halted Sunday morning after moving slowly into the proximity of the well overnight.

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

Even so, new blasts from the crater sent ash plumes billowing as high as 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) into the sky, and a new fissure was pumping out lava at a rate of three feet (1 meter) per second, geologists said.

Since the first outbreak happened more than three weeks ago, lava has claimed at least 82 structures in lower Puna and covered some 2,400 acres in lower Puna (or about 3.8 square miles).

According to the US National Weather Service officials in Guam, the volcanic haze has moved across the Pacific and is descending upon the many sparsely-populated islands in the area, including the aforementioned Marshall Islands and the islands of Micronesia.

Marines are on standby, ready to airlift residents if lava cuts off more streEts, leaving people stranded.

Halema'uma'u lava lake, Kilauea volcano.