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Fears high as Kilauea lava races towards power plant

By Sheetal Sukhija, Minnesota State News
23 May 2018, 20:24 GMT+10

HAWAII, U.S. - Experts sounded an alarm after the slow-moving molten rock from the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii’s Big Island which erupted two weeks back entered the site of a power plant on Tuesday.

According to local officials, while the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) Plant site on Big Island has been shut down, lava from an active fissure reportedly flowed 200 to 300 yards from the nearest well pad.

Concerns were high that the lava could trigger the release of deadly hydrogen sulfate gas. 

On Tuesday, emergency workers in Hawaii were said to be racing to protect the geothermal power plant which provides about 25 percent of Big Island’s power.

The plant’s wells run 6,000 to 8,000 feet underground to tap into extremely hot water and steam used to run turbines and produce electricity.

A week after the May 3 eruption caused lava explosions and caused newly opened fissures in the ground, some 60,000 gallons (227,124 litres) of the highly flammable chemical pentane, which was stored at the plant, were moved from harm’s way. 

County officials said on Monday, “County, state, and federal partners have been collaborating closely to monitor the situation and work with PGV to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities.”

Earlier, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warned that after the latest explosive eruption at the Kilauea summit, which occurred shortly before 6pm local time on Monday, “The resulting ash plume may affect surrounding areas.”

Tom Travis from the Hawaii Emergency Management pointed out that, “It's not easy to predict where it's going to go, and when it's going to get there.”

Authorities said that the lava continued its steady advance towards the power plant but stalled late in the evening. 

Yet, fears were high since experts said that the wells there still present a risk if overrun with the molten rock.

Travis said that while flammable liquids have already been removed and the wells have been filled with cold water, a worst-case scenario could be catastrophic.

He warned, “There's a steam release, many chemicals, but primarily hydrogen sulfate, a very deadly gas.”

However, Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder confirmed in a brief statement that the lava had stalled behind a berm on the property boundary.

Kilauea’s eruption has already produced around two dozen lava-spewing fissures and geologists have said that it has now entered a more violent phase, in which larger volumes of molten rock are oozing from the ground and traveling farther than before.

So far, at least 44 homes and other structures have been destroyed in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens area of the Puna district.

One man has suffered serious injuries after a chunk of molten rock shot out of a fissure and struck him on the leg.

Further, civil defense officials have said that 2,000 people have been ordered from their homes due to lava flows and toxic sulfur dioxide gas. 

The Hawaii National Guard has warned of more mandatory evacuations if further highways are blocked.

Geologists have ranked the Kilauea eruption as one of the biggest upheavals in a century from one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

After lava continued to burst from the area’s active fissures earlier this week, now, two flows of lava are pouring into the Pacific Ocean.

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