Ash rains down on Hawaii after explosive Kilauea volcano eruption

A woman watches as an ash plume rises from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island

Nevertheless, the USGS warned that at any time "activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent".

Kilauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupting nearly continuously since 1983.

"We could have additional events like this morning that punch up then die down really quickly, we could have more sustained ash coming out of Halema'uma'u", she said.

"With stratovolcanoes, when that lava reaches the surface, you get a very sudden expansion of that gas, and this generates a much more violent explosion", Malone said.

Although she could not say with certainty, Coombs said that the event appeared consistent with the dropping lava lake hitting ground water, as geologists have been expecting.

USGS geologists and staff were evacuated from the summit shortly before the blast and a webcam showed a grey plume of ash and chunks of magma. Those came after days of earthquakes.

"As long as the roads are open and there's a voluntary evacuation, we're working with the county to see what those numbers are going to be", he said. The major response is to protect yourself from fallout. He said he didn't hear anything and has yet to spot ash. If it happens, communities a mile or two away could be showered by pea-size fragments or dusted with ash.

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Scientists said the accumulation of ash has been light so far-less than a quarter of an inch-and isn't expected. This eruption was the largest since increased activity began on May 3, and send an ash cloud over 30,000 feet high.

Lava spits out from a fissure created by the eruption of Kilauea, on the big island of Hawaii.

Driving conditions in the area may be risky and drivers are advised to pull off the road until visibility improves, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Thursday's eruption, which occurred before dawn, produced an impressive ash plume, but otherwise caused minimal damage to surrounding areas.

Brigadier General Kenneth Hara, Hawaii Island Emergency Operations Commander, said he was working with the county to work out how many people might need to be evacuated by air.

Some Big Island residents had feared "the big one" after Kilauea shot anvil-sized "ballistic blocks" into the visitors' vehicle park on Wednesday and was rocked by earthquakes that damaged buildings and cracked roads in the park that was closed last week.

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