Hawaii Volcano: Workers Scramble To Shut Down Power Plant Threatened by Lava

Almost 230,000 litres of pentane gas have been removed from the plant.

What you need to know
  • Lava flow from Hawaii's Kileaua volcano is heading towards a geothermal power plant
  • Workers are racing to shut down the last of the plant's three wells
  • A 300 metre standoff zone has been issued around the ocean entry due to hazardous lava haze
  • More evacuations are predicted as lava continues to threaten homes and escape routes

Workers in Hawaii are scrambling to shut down a geothermal power plant which is under threat from lava flow, in the latest danger to residents from the Kilauea volcano.

The Puna Geothermal Venture plant has been closed since the volcano first began erupting on May 3, and authorities have since been pumping cold water into the plant's wells in a bid to counter the hot water and steam used to run its turbines.

County of Hawaii spokeswoman Janet Snyder told Reuters a lava flow was heading towards  the plant, but had so far stalled about 250-300 metres away.

Puna Geothermal Venture
More than 220,000 litres of pentane gas have been removed from the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, pictured here on May 6. SOURCE: Getty Images

Two of the plant's three wells are in the final stages of being capped, but workers are having "difficulties" quenching the third, according to Snyder.

The plant provides about 25 percent of power to the Big Island, and Governor David Ige said the wells were being shut because of the risk of an "uncontrolled release" of gas and steam, Reuters reports.

NEW RISKS

On Sunday residents were warned of another new risk -- called 'laze', a mix between 'lava' and 'haze' -- in the form of potentially deadly clouds of acid and glass particles, after two lava flows crossed a highway and hit the ocean.

Hawaii County Civil Defence warned residents to stay away from the ocean plume and issued a 300 metre standoff zone, as the Hawaii Volcano Observatory reported sulfur dioxide emissions had tripled around the Island.

Laze has the same corrosive properties as diluted battery acid. Source: USGS

"Laze is formed when hot lava hits the ocean sending hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air," the Civil Defence agency said.

"Be aware that the laze plume travels with the wind and can change direction without warning."

The dense white clouds of laze have the corrosive properties of diluted battery acid, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

FIRST INJURY

On Saturday the first report of serious injury emerged after a man was hit in the leg by shooting lava rock.

“A homeowner on Noni Farms Road who was sitting on a third-floor balcony got hit with lava spatter,” Snyder told Reuters.

“It hit him on the shin and shattered everything there down on his leg."

Lava spatters “can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces of spatter can kill,” Snyder was reported as saying.

MASS EVACUATIONS

Authorities warned of more mandatory evacuations on Saturday with at least four people airlifted out of areas isolated by the lava's path, according to CBS.

There are also concerns more escape routes could be threatened if lava flow further crosses highways.

"Residents and visitors in lower Puna, south of the Lower East Rift Zone, should be prepared to leave the area with little to no notice due to gas or lava inundation," Hawaii Civil Defese said on Monday.

At least 44 homes and other structures have been destroyed by the volcano since it first begun erupting, Reuters reports.