Hawaii officials warn of danger of ‘laze’ as Kilauea volcano lava reaches Pacific Ocean

Lava erupts on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, US, May 19, 2018. Picture: REUTERS

HONOLULU – Lava from the volcano erupting on Hawaii’s Big Island reached the Pacific Ocean for the first time Saturday night, creating fears of an effect referred to as “laze.”

Laze is a phenomenon which occurs when lava enters into sea water. According to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, it can produce a “gas plume that results in hazy and noxious conditions.”

When the lava hits the water it results in a gas mixture made up of hydrochloric acid gas (HCl), steam and tiny volcanic glass particles. Laze can result in skin and eye irritation and breathing difficulties. It led to two deaths in 2010.

The Kilauea volcano has sent oozing lava and noxious gas into neighbourhoods for more than two weeks, burning homes, driving out residents and producing explosive eruptions at the summit.

The first serious injury from the volcano was reported Saturday.

A homeowner who was on a third-floor balcony had his leg shattered from his shin to his foot when he was hit by lava spatter, a spokesperson for the Office of the Mayor, County of Hawaii, told Reuters.

Dozens of homes have burned, lava has crossed a road and explosions at the summit bring worries about ash fallout.

As lava flows have grown more vigorous, there are concerns more homes may burn and more evacuations will be ordered.

Officials want residents in the remote and rural area of the Big Island to heed evacuation warnings. A few people were temporarily trapped when a flow crossed a road. Some had to be airlifted to safety.

The area affected by lava and ash is small compared to the Big Island, which is about 10,360 square kilometres. Most of the island and the rest of the state is unaffected by Kilauea’s volcanic activity.