Pahoa, Hawaii.- The national park around Hawaii’s Kilauea was off-limits to visitors Friday for fear the volcano will blow its top in the coming days and hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air.
“If it goes up, it will come down,” said Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. “You don’t want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it’s coming out at 120 mph (193 kph).”
An explosive eruption could also ground planes at one of Big Island’s two major airports and release steam and toxic sulfurous fumes.
The volcano has been sputtering lava for a week, forcing about 2,000 people to evacuate, destroying two dozen homes and threatening a geothermal plant. Scientists are now warning of the possibility of a violent eruption caused by trapped steam.
The volcano park closed indefinitely Thursday night because of the risks.
“We know the volcano is capable of doing this,” Mandeville said, citing similar explosions at Kilauea in 1925, 1790 and four other times over the last few thousand years. “We know it is a distinct possibility.”
The danger zone from such a blast could extend about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the summit, land that all falls within the national park, Mandeville said. No one lives in the immediate area of the summit.
He would not estimate the likelihood of such an explosion but said internal volcanic conditions are changing in a way that could lead to a blast in about a week.