Residents as far away as Hilo, about 30 miles from Kilauea, were noticing the volcano’s effects. Pua’ena Ahn, who lives in Hilo, complained about having labored breathing, itchy, watery eyes and some skin irritation from airborne ash.
A National Weather Service ash advisory was in effect until noon. Several schools closed because of the risk of elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, a volcanic gas.
The crater sits within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed since May 11 as a safety precaution over risks of a violent eruption.
Scientists warned May 9 that a drop in the lava lake at the summit might create conditions for an explosion that could fling ash and refrigerator-sized boulders into the air. Geologists predicted such a blast would mostly release trapped steam from flash-heated groundwater. If it happens, communities a mile or two away could be showered by pea-size fragments or dusted with ash.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has been erupting continuously since 1983. It’s among the five volcanoes that form Hawaii’s Big Island, and the only one that’s actively erupting. An eruption in 1924 killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.
Robert Hughes owns the Aloha Junction Bed and Breakfast, about a mile and a half from the crater. He said he didn’t hear anything and has yet to spot ash. So far, he said, Thursday has been a “nice rainy day.”
His business has been hit hard by fears of the volcano, a major attraction for visitors. He’s lost hundreds of reservations and had just three guests Thursday instead of the 12 to 14 he has typically served. One was a news reporter, and the other two were visiting from Italy.
“In the old days, people used to love to come see the volcano. They’d even take their little postcards, burn one corner in the lava flow, mail them off, stuff like that,” he said. “Now they’re acting like it’s all super-dangerous and everything, but it just kind of oozes out.”