Kilauea volcano grows
A volcano on Hawaii's Big Island that is oozing and spewing lava and exploding with ash and gas has become more hazardous in recent days, with rivers of molten rock flowing into the ocean and flying lava causing the first major injury.

Kilauea began erupting more than two weeks ago. It has burned dozens of homes, forced people to flee and shot up plumes of steam from its summit that led officials to distribute face masks to protect against ash particles. Lava flows have grown more vigorous in past days, in one instance spattering molten rock that hit a man in the leg.

The man was outside his home on Saturday in the remote, rural region affected by the volcano when the lava "hit him on the shin, and shattered everything from there down on his leg" said Hawaii County mayor's spokeswoman Janet Snyder told Hawaii News Now TV.

Lava flying through the air from cracks in the earth can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces can be lethal, officials said.

The lava streamed across a highway and flowed into the ocean. That sent hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air, a process that can lead to lung damage and eye and skin irritation, another danger for residents as the plume can shift with the wind, the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency said.

The highway has shut down in some spots, and residents in the area have been evacuated. With the problems compounding, scientists cannot say if lava flows from nearly two dozen fissures will keep advancing or stop.

"We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption," said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. "We're kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty."

Evacuation orders for two neighborhoods with nearly 2,000 people were given after the first fissure opened on 3 May. Officials have been warning neighboring communities to be prepared to evacuate.

Lava flows have sped up as fresher magma mixes with decades-old magma, creating hotter and more fluid flows, scientists said. Two fissures had merged by Saturday, creating a wide flow moving at up to 300 yards per hour.

Edwin Montoya, who lives with his daughter on her farm near where lava crossed a roadway and trapped a handful of people on Friday, said the fissure opened and grew quickly.

"It was just a little crack in the ground, with a little lava coming out," he said. "Now it's a big crater that opened up where the small little crack in the ground was."

The area affected by lava and ash is small compared with the Big Island, which covers about 4,000 sq miles. The volcano has spared most of the island and the rest of the Hawaiian chain. Officials have reminded tourists that flights, including on the Big Island, have not been affected. Even on the Big Island, most tourist activities are available and businesses are open.

Source: Associated Press