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Earthquakes near Kilauea summit expected to become more frequent

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser — Gordon Y.K. Pang and Kevin Dayton The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

May 16--Update: 5 p.m.

Three American Red Cross shelters are open for residents evacuated from their homes due to the Kilauea lava threat:

>> Pahoa Community Center (15-3022 Kauhale Street, Pahoa, HI 96778)

>> Keaau Community Center (16-186 Pili Mua St, Keaau, HI 96749)

>> Sure Foundation Church (16-1592 Pohaku Cir, Keaau, HI 96749)

Volunteers from the Big Island are needed to monitor shelters and assist residents who have been displaced by the Kilauea lava threat. Training will be provided.

Click here to learn how you can become a volunteer. For questions, call (808) 739-8122.

4 p.m.

Strong earthquakes around Kilauea Volcano's summit are expected to continue and become more frequent as the summit continues to deflate, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists said this afternoon.

The deflation is occurring as the lava lake drops within Kilauea caldera. As of today, the floor of the caldera had dropped about 3 feet, although HVO did not say how long it took the floor to reach that point. The deflation causes stress faults around the caldera to move, resulting in frequent earthquakes, including a magnitude 4.4 this morning, HVO officials said.

The earthquakes around the summit have caused noticeable structural damage in park buildings, and cracks on Highway 11 and other park roadways, they said.

Park officials urge motorists to slow down and use caution on Highway 11, particularly between mile markers 28 and 29, and on Pi'i Mauna Road.

"We are leaving Highway 11 open at this time, but will close it if it becomes unsafe for motorists," said Chief Ranger John Broward at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. "We suspect we'll find additional damage throughout the park once we have time to assess damage."

A midday magnitude-3.5 earthquake created cracks and floor shifting in the park's Visitor Emergency Operations Center, cut power temporarily, and ruptured several water lines.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there have been nearly 100 quakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in the last 24 hours at Kilauea's summit and along the volcano's East Rift Zone, where the latest lava outbreak is occurring.

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COMPLETE KILAUEA COVERAGE:

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2 p.m.

Hawaii County police are advising the public to use caution as changing wind direction is pushing volcanic ash from Kilauea's summit toward Hilo.

They also advised motorists of new cracks on Highway 11, around mile markers 28 and 29, in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Earlier today, the National Weather Service issued a special weather statement warning that light winds "may carry ash across portions of Kau, Puna, and North and South Hilo Districts up to 10,000 feet." They advise the public in those areas to avoid excessive exposure to ash which can irritate the eyes and respiratory system.

11:36 a.m.

A preliminary magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck the Kilauea summit region of Hawaii island at 11:31 a.m.

However, no tsunami is expected, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

11:15 a.m.

Volcanic gas emissions remain elevated throughout the area downwind of the volcanic vents in lower Puna, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

An interruption in tradewinds today means that Lower Puna, Volcano Village and surrounding areas, such as the north, south and central regions of Hawaii island, may experience varying levels of vog and sulfur dioxide exposure.

Previous coverage

HILO >> Authorities expect to begin pumping cold water into at least one Puna Geothermal Venture well today in an effort to kill wells that are threatened by the active flow at Kilauea Volcano, county officials said.

Residents around PGV's Pohoiki power plant have worried that earthquakes or a lava flow could cause an uncontrolled blowout that would spew toxic gases into their communities.

Tom Travis, administrator of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, is monitoring the operation.

In a related development, Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Hawaii National Guard deputy adjutant general, has been authorized by President Donald Trump and Gov. David Ige as dual status commander making him able to call on both National Guard and active duty troops to assist with the ongoing situation.

Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory reported that fissures 18 and 13 were briefly active overnight, but that 18 is slowing, and fissure 13 is no longer active, county officials said. Fissure 17, which had put out a flow more than a mile toward the ocean, has not advanced since Tuesday, they said.

Highway 130 is open beyond Malama Street for local residents only, according to the state Department of Transportation. However, no large trailers or heavy equipment will be allowed over the metal plates.

Highway 132 is closed at the intersection with Pohoiki Road, and a checkpoint is located on Highway 130 by Pahoa High School. Traffic beyond all roadblocks is restricted to local traffic.

The Volcano School of Arts and Sciences is closed today because of concerns that changing winds may blow ash from the summit over the nearby town of Volcano.

The Hawaii County Fire Department reports that air quality is Condition Red around fissures in the southeast area of Lanipuna Gardens and surrounding farm lots on Pohoiki Road. Condition Red means there is an immediate danger to health and to take action to limit further exposure.

A magnitude 4.4 earthquake at about 8:30 a.m. was centered near the summit of Kilauea today, according to U.S. Geological Survey. The quake posed no tsunami threat. There have been more than 75 quakes of magnitude 2.5 or larger at Kilauea's summit and along its East Rift Zone where the lava outbreaks have occurred.

Officials from USGS, HVO and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center have assured the public that a tsunami-generating earthquake is highly unlikely from the ongoing geological activity associated with Kilauea's eruption.

Ash emissions from the Halemaumau Crater at the summit, meanwhile, abated this morning, prompting the National Weather Service to cancel an ashfall advisory for the southern Kau District of the Big Island before it was set to expire at 8 a.m.

The weather service this morning said light winds may carry ash across portions of Kau, Puna, and North and South Hilo Districts up to 10,000 feet. "In the event of a more significant eruption, an ashfall advisory or warning may be necessary."

Officials said the public should avoid excessive exposure to ash which is an eye and respiratory irritant, and that those with respiratory sensitivities should take extra precaution to minimize exposure.

The crater had pumped out a large volume of ash Tuesday, prompting the weather service to issue the advisory and the HVO to issue a "condition red" notice for aviation that warned pilots that the ash plume reaches an estimated elevation of 12,000 feet.

Ashfall and vog was reported along Highway 11 to Pahala Tuesday.

HVO scientists said that this morning "dense ballistic" blocks up to 2 feet across were found in a parking lot a few hundred yards from Halemaumau Crater. "These reflect the most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity. Further observations are necessary to asses this interpretation. Additional such explosions are expected and could be more powerful."

Much of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been closed since Friday due to the threat of an explosive, steam-driven eruption of ash, rock and gas from the crater.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. officials warned Tuesday that the volcanic ash falling on parts of the southern Big Isle could lead to extended power interruptions on the island.

For more information on the hazards of volcanic ash and vog, go to volcanoes.usgs.gov and vog.ivhhn.org.

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