The majority of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed today, as the threat of a steam-induced explosion and resulting ash fall near the summit of the Kilauea Volcano make traveling in the park dangerous, the National Park Service said in a news release.
The park will remain closed until further notice due to safety concerns caused by a seismic event that began May 1, with small cracks appearing on the volcano, followed by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake May 4 and the opening up of 15 lava fissures (volcanic vents through which magma escapes the surface of the Earth). On May 4, the NPS closed Volcanoes National Park, evacuating about 2,600 visitors. No injuries were reported within the park. At the same time, hundreds of residents remain evacuated from the surrounding community and 26 homes and nine other structures have been destroyed, the Washington Post reported.
This morning, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory released an update that stated that while the 15 fissure vents have ceased erupting, earthquake activity in the area remains high and sulfur dioxide continues to be released from the fissure system. Webcams revealed a steady plume of steam rising from Kilauea Overlook vent, a sign of continued seismic activity.
Geologists predict that steam-driven explosions (caused when water beneath the ground is heated by magma, lava, hot rocks or volcanic deposits) may occur, making travel dangerous, and rockfalls into the vent could produce low-level ash emissions, which can lead to health complications, especially for those with existing respiratory conditions.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closure will remain in effect until further notice. Only the Kahuku Unit, a popular hiking area, will stay open during normal hours, Friday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website to sign up for notifications from the National Park Service and to learn more.