Experts unsure when volcano will calm down

VOLCANO, Hawaii (AP) — Experts remained flummoxed Friday about when Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano will calm down.

The volcano exploded at its summit Thursday, sending ash and rocks thousands of feet into the sky.

Scientists said the eruption was the most powerful in recent days, though it probably lasted only a few minutes.

It came two weeks after the volcano began sending lava flows into neighborhoods 25 miles to the east of the summit, destroying 26 homes.

A new lava vent — the 22nd such fissure — was reported Friday by county civil defense officials.

Several open fissure vents still are producing lava splatter and flow in evacuated areas. Gas also is pouring from the vents, cloaking homes and trees in smoke.

The fresher, hotter magma will allow faster lava flows that potentially can cover more area, said Janet Babb, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Much of the lava that has emerged so far may have been underground for decades, perhaps since a 1955 eruption.

Meanwhile, more explosive eruptions from the summit are anticipated.

“We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption,” said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. “We’re kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty.”

It’s nearly impossible to determine when a volcano will stop erupting, “because the processes driving that fall below the surface and we can’t see them.” said volcanologist Janine Krippner of Concord University in West Virginia.

U.S. government scientists, however, are trying to pin down those signals “so we have a little better warning,” said Wendy Stovall, a volcanologist with the observatory.

Thus far, Krippner noted, authorities have been able to forecast volcanic activity early enough to usher people to safety.

“If nobody warned people, and tourists were all over the place, that would have been devastating with those large rocks flying out — those are deadly,” she said.

The Federal Aviation Administration still has flight restrictions in place, but for a smaller area — up to 5,000 feet above sea level, and a 3-mile radius around the crater.

Authorities have been measuring gases, including sulfur dioxide, rising in little puffs from open vents.