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Steam-driven blasts at Hawaii volcano could shower island with huge rocks - USGS

Concerns mount as lava threatens flammable liquids in power plant

Scientists said the occurrence of an explosion or multiple explosions would be contingent on a rock fall within the volcano's inner tunnel or conduit - and there have been frequent rockfalls so far in this eruption - once the magma in that tunnel has dropped to meet the ground water, creating steam.

An influx of water inside could cause steam-driven explosions.

The USGS warned that more violent eruptions could shoot "ballistic blocks" weighing up to several tons for a kilometre (0.6 miles), spew pebble-sized rocks several miles and cover dozens of miles with ash.

At a Wednesday evening press conference, Hawaii Gov. David Ige reported that a geothermal energy plant is quickening its removal of stored flammable gas.

Lava has flowed from fissures and has destroyed at least 36 homes and other buildings, plus anything else in its path, since it erupted about a week ago.

Gas emitted during steam-drive explosions will be mainly steam, but will include some sulfur dioxide as well.

There are 14 lava-and-gas producing fissures in Leilani Estates, after the two new ones formed Tuesday. At present, Kilauea volcano is still having one of the most long-lived eruptions known on earth, which started in 1983 on the eastern rift zone and has mainly been concentrated at the Pu'u 'O'o vent.

The warning comes as volcanologists in Hawaii report a new fissure at the entrance to another residential area on the Big Island, where thousands have already been forced to evacuate.

After a spokesperson for the county of Hawaii's Mayor, last week, said the surrounding area is so toxic [because of sulfur dioxide gas] that even first responders are finding it hard to move without protective equipment. He says it would be "very hazardous" if a volcanic vent were to open under the facility where the fuel is stored.

Hawaii estimates responding to Kilauea's eruption could cost more than $2.9 million in the next month. The facility is located across the highway from where lava has been erupting in Leilani Estates. But some ignored the order and stayed to watch over their property.

"There were a number of people at their residences", Talmadge Magno, the administrator for Hawaii County Civil Defense, said at a news conference. The 57-year-old, who recently retired to the area from Orange County, California, said he had seen drone footage showing lava flowing up his driveway, causing two propane tanks to explode.

There were about 1,700 residents in Leilani Estates and a few hundred in Lanipuna Gardens before last week.

"I want to remind (the public) that there are no facts about the future, this is our interpretation only", Swanson said. The fumes from the lava form a volcanic fog, which spreads far from the eruption. If the situation at the summit worsens, the National Park Service said it would take action to evacuate people and close Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to visitors.

"I need to figure that out", she said with tears in her eyes. Unlike the lava flow from a regular eruption, this one is reportedly slower but damaging nonetheless.