Lava entered the ocean from a third flow Thursday, marking the third week of a Hawaii volcano eruption that has opened up nearly two dozen vents in rural communities, destroyed dozens of buildings and shot miles-high plumes of ash into the sky.
Low lava fountains were erupting from a nearly continuous 3.22-kilometre-long portion of the series of fissures that have opened up in the ground, scientists said Thursday. The fountains were feeding channelised lava flows down to the coast. The eastern-most channel split, creating three ocean entries.
Since the eruption began on May 3, Hawaii County has ordered about 2 000 people to evacuate from Leilani Estates and surrounding neighbourhoods.
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Hawaii officials have said they may need to evacuate a thousand more people if lava crosses key highways and isolates communities in the mostly rural part of the island where the Kilauea volcano is erupting.
A blocked highway would cut people off from the only route to grocery stores, schools and hospitals.
The US Marine Corps said Thursday that it has sent two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from a base near Honolulu to help if more evacuations become necessary. Each helicopter can carry 50 passengers.
The volcano has opened more than 20 vents in the ground that have released lava, sulfur dioxide and steam. The lava has been pouring down the flank of the volcano and into the ocean miles away.
Lava erupting into the air in Leilani Estates area near Pahoa, Hawaii. (Photo: George F. Lee, Honolulu Star-Advertiser / AP)
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Lava has destroyed 50 buildings, including about two dozen homes. One person was seriously injured after being hit by a flying piece of lava.
There continues to be intermittent explosions at the summit that have been sending plumes of ash into the sky. On Wednesday, the volcano belched a plume that reached about 2 133 metres, scientists said. Right before the explosion, there was a 3.9 magnitude earthquake at the summit.
"We are kind of in this steady state," said Wendy Stovall, a scientist at the US Geographical Survey. There's no indication about whether lava volume will increase or decrease, she said. The continued explosions are expected to "last a little while longer."