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The authorities in Hawaii have issued warnings after the world’s largest active volcano has begun erupting for the first time in almost 40 years.
The eruption of 13,679 ft Mauna Loa, which began at 11.30pm on Sunday night, local time, has already triggered triggered dozens of earthquakes with one of them measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale.
Hawaii’s National Weather Service branch has told locals to beware of significant falls of ash from the volcano, and warned that “winds may carry volcanic gas and possibly fine ash and Pele’s Hair [tiny sharp fibres of natural glass] downwind.”
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So far, say officials, "Lava flows are contained within the summit area and are not threatening downslope communities”.
“If the eruption remains in Moku’āweoweo [the main crater of the volcano] , lava flows will most likely be confined within the caldera walls,” according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. “However, if the eruptive vents migrate outside its walls, lava flows may move rapidly downslope.”
However, that situation could change in an instant and the volcano alert level has been upgraded from an "advisory" to a "warning", the highest classification.
A statement from the US Geological Survey said: "Based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa eruption can be very dynamic and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly."
The statement added that if the volcano’s crater were to split, lava flows could "move rapidly downslope”.
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The last significant eruption of Mauna Loa was in 1984, when lava flows threatened to swamp Hilo, the largest settlement on Hawaii’s Big island.
The first officially recorded eruption took place in January 1843, and since that time Mauna Loa has erupted 32 times.
The most significant damage came in 1926, when a village near Hoʻōpūloa was inundated with lava, destroying 12 houses, a church, and a small harbour.
In 1935, lava flows from Mauna Loa that were believed to be heading for major population centres were diverted by a series of bombing raids masterminded by future WW2 general George S Patton.
This year marks the end of one of the longest formant spells in the volcano’s history, with the US Geological Survey saying in February 2021 that an eruption "does not appear to be imminent”.
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