New lava flow crosses onto Hawaii geothermal plant property

HONOLULU A broad lava flow crossed onto the property of a Hawaii geothermal power station on Saturday, posing a new hazard as molten rock from the erupting Kilauea volcano bulldozed relentlessly through homes and backyards.

The lava crossed onto the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), according to the US Geological Survey, having destroyed dozens of nearby houses in the past few days.

Since Kilauea volcano began a once-in-a-century-scale eruption on May 3, the authorities have shut down the plant, removed more than 200,000 litres of flammable liquid and deactivated wells that tap into steam and gas deep in the Earth's core.

Magma has drained from Kilauea's summit lava lake and flowed around 40km east underground, bursting out of about two dozen giant cracks or fissures near the plant.

"The flow from fissures 21 and 7 was widening and advancing," Ms Janet Snyder, a spokesman for the county of Hawaii, said in an e-mail.

Lava has never engulfed a geothermal plant anywhere in the world, according to the head of the state's emergency management agency.

Local residents fear an explosive emission of deadly hydrogen sulfide and other gases should wells be ruptured.

They have complained of health hazards from emissions from the plant since it went online in 1989 and PGV has been targeted by lawsuits challenging its location on the flank of one of the world's most active volcanoes.

The Israeli-owned 38 megawatt plant provides around 25 per cent of electricity on the Big Island.

In just the past 24 hours, there were between 250 and 270 earthquakes at Kilauea's summit, with four explosions on Saturday sending ash to altitudes as high as 4,570m, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Bravender.

Winds are set to shift today and tomorrow, causing more ash and volcanic smog to spread west and north-west towards more populated areas, he added. - REUTERS