Hawaii volcano erupts from summit, sends huge plume into sky

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Another fissure has emerged on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, bringing the total to 21, as authorities handed out protective masks and local officials warned that toxic ash and sulfur dioxide gas are the biggest health concerns for people near the mountain.

US Geological Survey geologist Michelle Coombs described the event as "energetic, but short-lived" and said most of the debris ejected from the crater likely fell near the explosion site.

United States Geological Survey (USGS) geologists and park rangers were evacuated from Hawaii National Volcanoes Park, where Kilauea is situated.

Such an eruption could not only shroud large areas of the Big Island in volcanic ash and smog, but also other Hawaiian islands and potentially distant areas if the plume reaches up into the stratosphere and ash is carried by winds.

Though disruptive, even painful for people living near Kīlauea - especially those who have already lost their homes - the eruption will not significantly affect life on the rest of the Big Island, Poland said.

Scientists say earthquakes may shake loose rocks underground and open up new tunnels for lava to flow.

Scientists believe the volcanic activity may be a precursor to a major eruption similar to the one that shook the island in the mid 1920s.

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Authorities have warned residents to stay away from the neighborhoods evacuated, warning that toxic sulfur dioxide seeping out of almost two dozen cracks in the ground caused by the volcano could prove deadly.

"I don't think there is a big one that's coming", said University of Hawaii volcanologist Scott Rowland.

Kilauea has been erupting now for two weeks but Thursday's episode saw its highest ash plume yet.

HVO's warning came after an explosive eruption at 4 a.m. that day.

What is happening at Kilauea is fundamentally is dissimilar from that 1980 eruption, experts told. Shield volcanoes like Kīlauea produce a runny, basaltic lava that does not tend to erupt as dramatically as steep stratovolcanos like Mount St. Helens. But these golfers in Hawaii have rounds to go before they sleep.

Thursday's event was, if not the huge one, then certainly a big one, researchers told further.

Earlier, a change in wind direction caused gas spewing from fissures to drift towards Pahoa, prompting national guard troops to don gas masks at a nearby road intersection.