Hawaii could see acid rain and boulders falling from the sky, warnings suggest — and fear is mounting as more cracks appear

A lava flow from the Kilauea volcano, moves on a street in Leilani Estates in Hawaii, U.S. May 6, 2018.

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A lava flow from the Kilauea volcano, moves on a street in Leilani Estates in Hawaii, U.S. May 6, 2018.
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USGS/Handout

A volcanic eruption in Hawaii has destroyed more than 36 structures and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

But things could get worse, according to the United States Geological Survey. There’s potential for Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano to propel gigantic boulders into the sky, spew noxious gases like sulfur dioxide, and cause acid rain to fall over Hawaii’s Big Island if its eruption intensifies.

A new fissure opened on Sunday, spraying magma chunks over 100 feet in the air and spewing lava into surrounding forests and residential neighborhoods.

USGS geologists are closely monitoring the volcano. Forceful eruptions occur when magma (or underground lava) sinks to the water table. When the water and magma mix, it creates steam, which builds pressure below the Earth. All that pressure can blow, flinging massive boulders, ash, and lava into the air.

While eruptions are difficult to predict, the lava lake on top of Kilauea’s main summit is quickly sinking – a sign that a big eruption may be coming, according to the USGS.

Kilauea has been continuously erupting for years, but the action got significantly more disastrous in recent weeks. New fissures and flowing lava have caused severe damage in residential communities located near the crater. The lava first flowed into residential neighborhoods last week, but geologists have been sounding the alarm that the eruption may get worse.

President Donald Trump declared a major disaster on the Big Island, making federal financial assistance available to state and local governments as they repair roads, public parks, schools, and water pipes damaged by the eruption.

Here’s what the area looks like.


Geologists have been closely monitoring the crater on Kilauea’s summit in the hope of predicting when more intense outbursts will occur.

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Kilauea volcano’s summit lava lake.
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USGS/Handout

When the level of the lava in the crater plummets, as geologists are seeing on Kilauea, that can be a sign that explosions of ash and steam could follow.

A lava flow from the Kilauea volcano, moves on a street in Leilani Estates in Hawaii, U.S. May 6, 2018.

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A lava flow from the Kilauea volcano, moves on a street in Leilani Estates, Hawaii.
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USGS/Handout

The level of the lava lake in Kilauea’s summit crater has fallen over 220 meters in recent days, indicating an explosion is likely.


Residential neighborhoods near Kilauea’s crater have been hit particularly hard.

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Lava and downed power lines block a road in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano.
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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The volcanic activity causes rifts, or fissures, to open in the ground around the crater, leading lava to spew out into residential neighborhoods.


Lava flows have destroyed houses, blocked roads, and even downed power lines.

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Lieutenant Aaron Hew Lew, of the Hawaii National Guard, measures levels of toxic sulfur dioxide gas near a lava flow in the Leilani Estates subdivision.
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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

But the lava isn’t the only concern. Volcanic rifts in the ground spew noxious fumes, like sulfur dioxide, which can cause lung infections. Children and seniors are particularly at risk.

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The volcanic activity spews sulfur dioxide into the air.
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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

On Wednesday, the 15th rift caused lava to flow into a residential neighborhood.

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A geologist inspects a crack on Old Kalapana Road, near Kilauea.
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USGS/Handout

When there’s precipitation in the forecast, sulfur dioxide can also cause acid rain, when the moisture in the air mixes with the gas.

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A geologist examines a part of an inactive fissure in Leilani Estates in Hawaii.
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USGS/Handout

Acid rain is rainfall that’s made acidic by atmospheric pollution like sulfur dioxide. It can kill plants and animals and degrade infrastructure.


New rifts are opening around the crater on an almost daily basis.

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Geologists collect lava samples from an inactive fissure in Leilani Estates.
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USGS/Handout

The newest fissure opened up over the weekend, bringing the total number of fissures to 17.

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Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii.
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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

That new fissure is located near Hawaii’s Puna Geothermal Venture power plant, putting it at risk of destruction.

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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava pouring out of the new fissure shows no signs of slowing as of Monday morning.

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

In some areas, the lava is piled over 40 feet thick.

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Reuters/Terray Sylvester

Residents are allowed to access their homes during the day, but authorities have warned that they should be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

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Lava cools in a resident’s yard in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano, May 8, 2018.
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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Around 1,700 people still cannot sleep in their homes, according to CNN. Smoke and other noxious fumes also continue to make conditions in the area dangerous.

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Source: CNN


It will take a long time for local neighborhoods to recover from the damage.

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Lava partially covers a yard in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano, May 8, 2018
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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

President Donald Trump declared a major disaster on the Big Island, making federal financial assistance available to state and local governments as they attempt to respond to and recover from the eruption.

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REUTERS/Terray Sylvester