Mount Kilauea is ready to blow, Hawaii authorities warn families

Kilauea volcano Hawaii

Scientists say that as the lava level continues to drop in the crater, more fissures are likely to open in the ground and have warned of a major volcanic eruption.

"At any time, activity may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent", the HVO said in a statement on the change in aviation alert level to red from orange.

Explosions in Kilauea's crater sparked an aviation red alert due to risks the ash plume could blow into aircraft routes and damage jet engines.

Thousands of Hawaiians have already been forced to evacuate the area since the volcano first erupted twelve days ago. The troops may be needed for emergency evacuations, search and rescue, clearing debris and other duties.

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On Tuesday, the volcano discharged ash because of rocks falling into the summit, US Geological Survey geophysicist Mike Poland said.

Because of the ash, USGS scientists operated from a backup command centre at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

"We're observing more or less continuous emission of ash now with intermittent, more energetic ash bursts or plumes", Steve Brantley, a deputy scientist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), said on a conference call with reporters. They will have to rely on remote observations, he said.

Geologists warn that Kilauea's summit could have a separate explosive steam eruption that would hurl huge rocks and ash miles into the sky, but it's not certain when or if that might actually happen.

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"Things seem to be progressing largely as they have been, except for a shift in wind and less ash", Poland said. Residents and scientists are keeping a close watch for more violent activity.

The new burst of ash came as a new fissure opened on the Big Island, where the crater is located, bringing to 20 the total number of lava-oozing cracks caused by the volcano eruption on May 3. For those on the ground near active lava vents, similar health warnings were issued because of unsafe volcanic gases. (The most recent one opened on Tuesday.) The air quality is deemed unsafe to health in some areas due to the release of sulfur dioxide from the fissures.

The area taking the brunt of the eruption is about 40km down Kilauea's eastern flank, near the village of Pahoa. Most fissures are in that subdivision or the adjoining Leilani Estates neighbourhood.

Several fissures shot lava into the air on Wednesday but one flow advanced only 100 yards (meters) toward coastal Highway 137, which remains around a mile (1.6km) distant, County of Hawaii Civil Defense said in a statement.

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