Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has erupted anew with little sound and only modest fury, spewing a plume of ash about 9100 meters into the sky that began raining down on a nearby town.
The explosion at the summit followed two weeks of volcanic activity that sent lava flows into neighbourhoods and destroyed at least 26 homes. Scientists said the eruption was the most powerful in recent days, though it probably lasted only a few minutes.
Geologists have warned that the volcano could become even more violent, with increasing ash production and the potential that future blasts could hurl boulders the size of cows from the summit.
Some people in the community closest to the volcano slept through the blast, said Kanani Aton, a spokeswoman for Hawaii County Civil Defense, who spoke to relatives and friends in the town called Volcano.
The National Weather Service issued an ash advisory and then extended it through early evening, and county officials distributed ash masks to area residents. Several schools closed because of the risk of elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, a volcanic gas.
The immediate risk health risk comes from ash particles in the air, said Dr. Josh Green, a state senator who represents part of the Big Island.
Thursday's eruption did not affect the Big Island's two largest airports in Hilo and in Kailua-Kona.
The crater spewing ash sits within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed since May 11 as a safety precaution over risks of a violent eruption.
Scientists warned May 9 that a drop in the lava lake at the summit might create conditions for a large explosion. Geologists predicted such a blast would mostly release trapped steam from flash-heated groundwater.
Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, has been erupting continuously since 1983. It's among the five volcanoes that form the Big Island, and it's the only one actively erupting. An eruption in 1924 killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.
Scientists cannot say why the eruption is happening now, given that Kilauea has been active for 35 years.