Three lava flows reach coast as volcanic eruption batters Hawaii

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Lava from the Kilauea volcano has been burning through plants and shrubs, producing methane.

Nighttime photos released by the US Geological Survey were taken in the Leilani Estates neighbourhood where the volcano has been sending up lava through vents in the ground.

As the lava burns up vegetation in its path, it can create the flammable gas, USGS explains, which then seeps into underground apertures, rising from cracks and burning blue once ignited.

An explosive eruption at the Kilauea summit at 3:45 a.m. (9:45 a.m. EST) sent ash to a height of 8,000 feet over Hawaii's Big Island, civil defense said.

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A crack however opened in the ground under one of the lava channels, "diverting the lava. into underground voids", the statement said.

The eruption has destroyed 50 buildings, including about two dozen homes.

While one man almost lost his leg to flying lava splatter, no one has died yet in connection to the volcanic activity. Some 2000 people have faced mandatory evacuations and another 2000 in coastal communities may be forced to leave their homes if State Highway 130, their last exit, becomes blocked.

A helicopter overflight of the Lower East Rift Zone ocean entry and fissure complex shows ongoing eruption activity with a new lava flow expected to enter the ocean east of MacKenzie State park tonight.

Despite the epic imagery, Kilauea's recent activity is a blip when compared to its previous episodes since 1983, when the current eruption technically began.

The island is breathing a sigh of relief as it seems that one hazard has been narrowly averted at the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant, which provides about a quarter of Big Island's electricity.

On Wednesday, Hawaii Governor David Ige said that while officials are continuing to monitor gases leaking from the power plant, "all wells are stable at this point". Kilauea and its many fissures which are pouring out huge mounts of molten rock are causing massive problems in the immediate vicinity of the volcano, but no effects are occurring away from Hawaii.

Officials called the plant "essentially safe", but many residents lost trust in the plant long ago.

Scientists said Tuesday that lava from the volcano was causing "fireworks-like explosions" as it entered the ocean.

Residents near the plant are concerned about the possibility of lava flowing over the plants facilitates releasing poisonous gas into the air.