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Eruptive display draws new crowds to Kilauea

    A fissure between Puu Oo Crater and Napau opened early Sunday, releasing fountains of lava.
    A fissure eruption at Kilauea Volcano that began on Saturday continued yesterday with "vigorous spattering," the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported. The spectacular display has drawn more visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kilauea Volcano kept up its latest fireworks display yesterday with no sign of abating — much to the delight of a new wave of visitors.

The fissure eruption that started Saturday continued with "vigorous spattering," the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported. Meanwhile, 18 small earthquakes rocked the area — 10 near the fountaining fissure, five below the summit and three on the south flank faults.

The largest was a magnitude-3.1.

The ground isn’t the only thing jumping.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger Marnie Lane said there’s been a noticeable rise in park visitors, especially Hawaii residents.

"They’re coming in droves," she said. "If they haven’t been to the park before, now is a good time."

George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, said tourism numbers also are up, though he won’t have precise figures until the end of the month.

"People have been calling," he said. "They want to know about it."

The interest has been fueled by images and sounds spread via satellite around the world. Internet images posted by CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and other sites show the new fissure spewing gases and lava out of Kilauea’s east rift.

Additional photos:

>> Kilauea volcano eruption
>> More of the Kilauea lava flow

Since Saturday there has been a sevenfold increase in traffic on the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website, said scientist Janet Babb.

The new fissure, west-southwest of Puu Oo, is one of many iterations at Kilauea since its current eruption began in January 1983 but is similar to an episode in 1997, Babb said.

"There’s a lot of noise, lots of gas … escaping rapidly."

In fact, the eruption at the fissure sounds like a low-flying jet plane as red molten rock shoots up 80 feet in the air, Babb said.

The lava itself is about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the gases are toxic as they spread southeast on the trades.

As a precaution, scientists monitoring the activity at the new fissure are staying upwind. Park rangers also have closed Chain of Craters Road, Kulanaokuaiki Campground and the east rift trails.

Applegate said the volcano is the kind of breathtaking attraction that the typical Big Island visitor seeks out. The park had about 1.3 million visitors last year.

Once in the park, visitors realize there are other attractions, including the rain forest and native birds, Lane said.


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