• Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has erupted, shooting an ash plume about 9km into sky.
  • Authorities are preparing for possible evacuations by air if roads get cut off.
  • Minor 3.38 magnitude earthquake hits the region.

ABOUT 1000 people could be evacuated by air if Hawaii's volcanic eruption cuts off roads and isolates communities in the area.

Officials on Hawaii's Big Island have started handing out free masks to protect people from breathing volcanic ash.

About a quarter-inch of ash is expected to fall in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and in nearby communities.

 


Hawaii County Civil Defence administrator Talmadge Magno said they had expanded the area of concern from the Leilani area to include the rest of lower Puna.

"We're still putting the messages out that the activity continues and for folks in the rest of the communities to be prepared that at a moment's notice they might have to either evacuate or move out of the area due to some kind of increased activity," he said.

 

Brigadier General Kenneth Hara, Hawaii Island Emergency Operations Commander, said he was working with the county to work out how many people might need to be evacuated by air.

"As long as the roads are open and there's a voluntary evacuation, we're working with the county to see what those numbers are going to be," he said.

"Unless there's something catastrophic with no notice we might not even need aviation support.

But Brig. Gen. Hara said he anticipated at least one community being isolated if roads were cut.

"We'll be driven by the county asking for support," he said.

"I think worst case we're planning for about 1000 but some of the population may elect to stay there because they are so self sufficient."

A minor earthquake measuring 3.38 magnitude struck on Thursday, 3km from Leilani Estates in Hawaii.

The earthquake was roughly at a depth of 5.95 km.

Hawaii volcano violently erupts

EARLIER: HAWAII'S Kilauea volcano has erupted from its summit, shooting a dusty plume of ash about 9km into the sky.

Mike Poland, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey, confirmed the explosion on Friday morning (AEST).
 

It comes after more than a dozen fissures recently opened miles to the east of the crater and spewed lava into neighbourhoods.   

Those areas were evacuated as lava destroyed at least 26 homes and 10 other structures.   

The crater sits within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed since May 11.   

Officials have said they did not expect the explosion to be deadly as long as people remained out of the park.

This U.S. Geological Survey imageshows a view of the ash plume resulting from an early morning explosion at Kilauea Volcano, in Hawaii on May 17 (US time). The volcano has erupted from its summit, shooting a dusty plume of ash about 9km into the sky.
This U.S. Geological Survey imageshows a view of the ash plume resulting from an early morning explosion at Kilauea Volcano, in Hawaii on May 17 (US time). The volcano has erupted from its summit, shooting a dusty plume of ash about 9km into the sky. AAP

   
Kilauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes.  

An eruption in 1924 killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.  

Scientists warned on May 9 that a drop in the lava lake at the summit could create conditions for an explosion that could fling ash and boulders the size of refrigerators into the air.  

Scientists predicted it would mostly release trapped steam from flash-heated groundwater released as though it was a kitchen pressure cooker.  

Communities a mile or two away may be showered by pea-size fragments or dusted with nontoxic ash, they said.

Kilauea volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983.  

It's one of five volcanoes that comprise the Big Island of Hawaii, and the only one currently erupting.    -PA

© AAP

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