A new fissure roaring like jet engines and spewing magma opened on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on Saturday, piling lava as high as a four-story building, as the area torn by the U.S. volcano's eruption spread
The crack in pasture land on Kilauea's east flank was the 16th recorded since the volcano, one of the world's most active, erupted eight days ago. Thousands of people have fled their homes on Hawaii's Big Island because of lava and toxic gases, and dozens of homes have been destroyed.
The new fissure opened up about a mile (1.6 km) east of the existing vent system that has devastated the island's Leilani Estates neighborhood, with a few homes on the edge of the field where the vent opened. The U.S. Geological Survey warned that more outbreaks remained likely.
"It's right by my house, which is kind of scary," said Haley Clinton, 17, who walked to see the new crack with her father, Darryl, and sister Jolon, 15. "It's really cool."
From afar, the fissure gave off dull, thumping roars that sharpened on approach to a scream like a chorus of jet engines from venting steam and gas, mixed with the slapping sounds of liquid lava.
Within hours of opening, the fissure had piled reddish-black lava about 40 feet (12 meters) high and at least 150 feet (45 meters) in length. Chunks of magma were being spewed 100 feet (30 meters) in the air.
The intense heat left onlookers drenched with sweat, and the air was filled with an acrid, burned scent. With billowing gas and smoke blowing in the opposite direction, there was no pungent smell of toxic sulfur dioxide in the air.
Shortly after the fissure opened, the Geological Survey's Hawaii Volcano Observatory said seismic activity remained "elevated" at Kilauea's 4,000-feet-high (1,200-meter-high) summit. The USGS reported a shallow but small earthquake with a magnitude of 3.5 hit the island on Saturday.
Geologists warned on Friday that a steam-driven eruption from the summit's Halemaumau crater could spew ash plumes 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) high and spread ash and debris up to 12 miles (19 km).
Kilauea's vents have been oozing relatively cool, sluggish magma left over from a similar event in 1955. Fresher magma could now emerge behind it and the volcano is threatening to start a series of explosive eruptions, scientists have said.
The eruption of a Hawaii volcano in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" has experts warily eyeing volcanic peaks on America's West Coast that are also part of the geologically active region.
The West Coast is home to an 800-mile (1,300-kilometer) chain of 13 volcanoes , from Washington state's Mount Baker to California's Lassen Peak. They include Mount St. Helens, whose spectacular 1980 eruption in the Pacific Northwest killed dozens of people and sent volcanic ash across the country, and massive Mount Rainier, which towers above the Seattle metro area.
"There's lots of anxiety out there," said Liz Westby, geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington, in the shadow of Mount St. Helens. "They see destruction, and people get nervous."
Kilauea, on Hawaii's Big Island, is threatening to blow its top in coming days or weeks after sputtering lava for a week, forcing about 2,000 people to evacuate, destroying two dozen homes and threatening a geothermal plant. Experts fear the volcano could hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air.
Here are some key things to know:
Roughly 450 volcanoes make up this horseshoe-shaped belt with Kilauea situated in the middle. The belt follows the coasts of South America, North America, eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand. It's known for frequent volcanic and seismic activity caused by the colliding of crustal plates.
America's most dangerous volcanoes are all part of the Ring of Fire, and most are on the West Coast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Besides Kilauea, they include: Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington; Mount Hood and South Sister in Oregon; and Mount Shasta and Lassen Volcanic Center in California.
The Cascades Volcano Observatory monitors volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest and posts weekly status reports. All currently register "normal."
But the situation can change fast.
"All our mountains are considered active and, geologically speaking, things seem to happen in the Northwest about every 100 years," said John Ufford, preparedness manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division. "It's an inexact timeline."