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Fire in the hole

Puu Oo crater's floor collapses, starting a spectacular fissure eruption at Kilauea Volcano

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 10:42 a.m. HST, Mar 7, 2011

A new vent that opened Saturday on Kilauea continued to erupt yesterday with quiet periods punctuated by curtains of lava 80 feet high, scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.

The fissure opened up in the east rift zone in a remote area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park southwest of Puu Oo crater after the crater's floor collapsed Saturday.

Measurements show Puu Oo's floor dropped at least 377 feet Saturday, which generated a huge cloud of ash. There was little activity in the crater yesterday.

The fissure, which was about a mile from Puu Oo, grew to 1.4 miles in length yesterday, and lava continued to erupt up and down the vent, which is typical for a fissure eruption, said Janet Babb, HVO spokeswoman.

She said the eruption is similar to an event in 1997 when Puu Oo crater's floor collapsed and a fissure eruption started. But that event lasted less than 24 hours, which this eruption had already surpassed yesterday afternoon.

She said scientists from varied specialties -- geologists, geochemists and geophysicists -- were in the field all day yesterday, collecting samples and studying land deformations. They will head back out at first light today.

"This is what they train for," Babb said. "This is what excites them. It's a chance to do what they do: study an active volcano."

Meanwhile, lava flows on the pali and coastal plain are still active but sluggish. Based on similar events in the past, it will take a day or two to see whether the lava supply has been cut off by the fissure eruption, scientists said.

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