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Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano erupts for 1st time in nearly 40 years

This image provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory shows Hawaii's Mauna Loa early on Monday. The U.S. Geological Survey says the eruption began late Sunday night in the summit caldera of the volcano on the Big Island.

This image provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory shows Hawaii's Mauna Loa early on Monday. The U.S. Geological Survey says the eruption began late Sunday night in the summit caldera of the volcano on the Big Island.

Photo: USGS

RCI

Scientists had been on alert after a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit

Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, has started to erupt, prompting volcanic ash and debris to fall nearby, authorities said Monday.

The eruption began late Sunday night in the summit caldera of the volcano on the Big Island, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said. Early Monday, it said lava flows were contained within the summit area and weren't threatening nearby communities.

The agency warned residents at risk from Mauna Loa lava flows to review their eruption preparations. Scientists had been on alert because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.

How long the volcano erupts and whether it could cause lava to flow to populated areas of the island is impossible to predict, said Miel Corbett, a USGS spokesperson.

But I can tell you, we're in constant communication right now with Hawaii Civil Defense, and they're providing updates to community members, she said.

Even though it noted there is no indication of lava exiting the summit, the civil defence agency said it has opened shelters in Kailua-Kona and Pahala because it has reports of people self-evacuating along the South Kona coast.

According to a statement from the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, Multiple images have surfaced on social media indicating lava activity outside of the caldera. At this time, no lava migration into a rift zone has been confirmed.

Ashfall warning in effect

Portions of the Big Island were under an ashfall advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu, which said up to a quarter-inch (0.6 centimetres) of ash could accumulate in some areas.

Based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa eruption can be very dynamic and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly, the USGS said.

The Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii is shown a March 25, 1984, handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, and released to Reuters in 2014. Scientists had been on alert for new activity because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of the volcano. (U.S. Geological Survey/Reuters)

The Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii is shown a March 25, 1984, handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, and released to Reuters in 2014. Scientists had been on alert for new activity because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of the volcano.

Photo: (U.S. Geological Survey/Reuters)

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together make up the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Mauna Loa, rising 4,169 metres above sea level, is the much larger neighbour to the Kilauea volcano (new window), which erupted in a residential neighbourhood and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of its slopes are much steeper than Kilauea's, so when it erupts its lava can flow much faster.

During a 1950 eruption, the mountain's lava travelled 24 kilometres to the ocean in less than three hours. In the eruption of 1984, lava flowed within eight kilometres of the city of Hilo.

The Associated Press with files from CBC News

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