Hawaii lava crosses key highway, destroys utility poles

Hawaii volcanic smog blankets Marshall Islands

Officials have said the power plant is safe but lava has never engulfed a geothermal plant anywhere in the world, creating a measure of uncertainty.

The destruction came after rivers of lava flowed toward the ocean over the weekend, forcing officials to knock on doors and urge residents holding out in two evacuated neighborhoods to flee right away.

Scientists say they have no idea when Kilauea will slow down.

"This is the hottest lava that we've seen in this eruption, even just a matter of 50 degrees centigrade makes a big difference in how quickly lava flows can move and how they behave once the magma exits the vent", Stovall said.

But the mandatory evacuation was "decided prior to that incident", said David Mace, a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency now assigned to the Hawaii County Civil Defense authority.

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Officials said the lava destroyed the electric utility's equipment on the highway which led to power losses at the Vacationland and Kapoho Beach lots.

"You are at risk of being isolated due to possible lava inundation", the agency advised the public, referring to the area where two highways intersect.

The risky fibers - named after Hawaiian fire and volcano goddess Pele - are produced when lava splatter droplets cools rapidly in the air and can cause skin and eye irritation similar to volcanic ash. Around 2,000 residents have already abandoned their homes as a result of the eruption, which has destroyed 71 houses so far.

The lava is bubbling from a particularly violent fissure - or volcanic crack in the Earth's surface - called Fissure 8.

Aerial observations from the U.S. Geological Survey on Wednesday morning showed lava from a fissure within 0.65 miles (1.04 kilometers) of Highway 137 and was advancing at about 100 yards (91.44 meters) per hour. "Fissure 8 is producing the most active flow with a channel that may overflow at any time", the agency said.

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Kilauea's main crater at the volcano's summit has continued to periodically belch ash high up into the sky. "It can cause injury to eyes and lungs if breathed in".

The National Weather Service said the wind could carry ash to other locations.

"In addition to this potential over the Big Island, some emissions could reach the smaller islands through the day Tuesday".

Lava-filled fissures have torn apart chunks of the southeastern side of the Big Island over the past three weeks as Kilaeau has become more active. If the cracks on Highway 130 would become larger or lava flows would cut off this road, the Chain of Craters Road would be the evacuation road for around 1000 people living in Kalapana southwest of the now active fissure system.

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