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Hawaii volcano eruption prompts toxic gas alert on Big Island

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Molala Street in Leilani Estates after lava flowed over the road

After a new fissure opened on Wednesday a half mile (0.8 km) from a geothermal power plant, Hawaii Governor David Ige set up a task force to remove pentane fluid used in the plant's turbines. It is eventually released through an explosion, sending extremely hot steam, rocks, gases and volcanic ash forcibly upward.

The statement added: "No access is allowed at this time for residents of Lanipuna Gardens due to risky volcanic gases".

"If it goes up, it will come down", said Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the US Geological Survey.

What we're looking at: Lava has been erupting from new vents, or cracks, around the community of Leilani Estates - east of the summit - intermittently for days.

Mr Mandeville would not estimate the likelihood of such an explosion, but said the volcano's internal plumbing could still prevent an explosion. No one saw or heard the first explosion of that event, they just noticed rocks flung out of the crater overnight.

"When a house today might look like it's perfectly safe, it might get taken out by a lava flow five years from now if the eruption keeps on going".

The risks from the explosions are largely limited to the area around the volcano, primarily within Volcano National Park - especially the facilities on the edge of the caldera.

"You really can't hurt Pele", he said.

The volcanic ash coming from the explosions are small particles of rock and volcanic glass, and can be spread far by winds.

"We are seeing earthquakes, they are clustering right now near the intersection of Highway 132 and Noni Farms Road", said Wes Thielen, the seismic network manager at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Many residents believe that Kilauea's eruptions are not just natural disasters, but the act of Pele, a Hawaiian volcano goddess that resides inside the mountain.

This event - beautiful, destructive, frightening - also presents a moment for all of us to appreciate the enormous power of the forces that never cease shaping our planet.

Workers are moving the fuel to an industrial park about 30 miles (48.2 kilometers) away.

Dustings of ash were expected downwind of Kilauea on Thursday as summit earthquakes set off rockfalls into the lava lake and sent up plumes of steam, ash and smoke, the USGS said. However, last week's issues started when the Pu'u O'o crater's lava levels started rising.

"One of the things I love about Kilauea is that it's so well-monitored and so well-studied - the more we know, the more we realize we don't know", she said.

Once the lava drops, rocks that had been superheated could fall into the lava tube. "That is three soccer fields happening", Mandeville mentioned. According to the legend, when the deity, one of the universe creator's six daughters and seven sons, was exiled to Hawaii, she went on a rampage, creating destructive fire pits and volcanoes. And once the lava drops below the water table, water hits rocks that are as hot as nearly 2,200 degrees and flashes into steam.

A similar 1924 explosion hurled pulverized rock, ash and steam as high as 5.4 miles into the sky, for several weeks.

The town, which is nestled in a lush rainforest a few miles from the crater, is a popular overnight spot for park visitors.

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