Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupted Thursday, the biggest explosion yet driving a plume of ash and debris 30,000 feet into the air and putting Big Island residents on further notice that a bigger blast could still be percolating in the volatile crater.
The state Civil Defense agency said the plume was drifting northeast and warned residents to shelter in place. Driving conditions may be dangerous due to low visibility, the agency warned.
"At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent," the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Kilauea status page.
The steam-driven explosion occurred within Halema’uma’u Crater at Kilauea's summit at about 4:17 a.m. local time, and few Big Island residents were out and about.
"Not your average wake-up call at the Kīlauea Volcano summit," USGS noted.
Interactive graphic: How volcanoes erupt
Later emissions continued as high as 12,000 feet, USGS said. Ken Boyer, a resident of nearby Volcano Village, said he heard no rumbling and saw nothing out of the ordinary as daylight swept in.
“There’s no observable ash fall here right now in the Village,” he said. “It completely covered my vehicle last night but nothing this morning.”
About half a dozen schools closed due to elevated sulfur dioxide levels.
Mike Poland, a USGS geophysicist, told the Associated Press the explosion likely only lasted a few minutes. He said ash accumulations are minimal, with only trace amounts near the volcano and on the nearby town of Volcano.
Still, ash will affect local waters for several hours, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency warned. The National Weather Service issued an Ashfall Advisory for the area until noon local time. An Ashfall Advisory means that ash accumulation of less than one quarter inch is expected on boats.
The volcano is in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed since May 11. The lava seeping through fissures has forced the evacuation of nearly 2,000 people 25 miles away near Leilani Estates. More than two dozen homes have been destroyed in the neighborhood 35 miles from Hilo, the island’s largest city.
The fissures and lava flow there show no signs of stopping two weeks after a series of cracks began opening beneath the area. Wednesday afternoon, open pits or "vents" of lava roared and threw cinder-like ash into the surrounding jungle, igniting smoldering forest fires.
Contributing: Denise Laitinen and Trevor Hughes; The Associated Press