Authorities in Hawaii have a message for tourists and other onlookers producing amazing photos and videos of molten lava burning its way across the island: Please don’t die.
“Being in Hawaii and being around lava, you get used to the way it behaves and so you kind of become comfortable around it,” Wendy Stovall, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told The Washington Post.“ (The lava flows) are mesmerizing to see. I understand why people want to see them, but it’s not advisable. It’s a dangerous situation.”
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Hawaii civil defense authorities issued a warning Sunday urging onlookers to stay away. “This is not the time for sightseeing,” read the warning, according to CNN. Spectators not only endanger themselves but impede emergency response to affected neighborhoods, authorities said.
Volcanic fissures connected to an eruption of Kilauea began opening Thursday in the Leilani Estates neighborhood, reported KGMB. Lava flowing from the fissures — and venting up to 230 feet in the air — has destroyed 26 homes and nine other structures.
The island also has been struck by a swarm of earthquakes related to the volcanic activity, according to KGMB.
Few people are killed directly by lava, despite its temperature of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, because it normally moves so slowly that most can get out of its way, according to the USGS. But death or injury can result when people approach too closely or are cut off from escape by branching flows.
Other dangers include flying rocks, mudflows, floods and deadly fumes, reported the USGS.
Lava produces toxic gases including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and hydrofluoric acid, according to Earth Magazine. When it hits water, lava can produce clouds of hydrochloric acid.
“It looks like a pretty white steam cloud, but it’s not. It’s acid,” Travis Heggie, a former eruption duty ranger, told the publication.