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The Latest: National Guard ready to evacuate people

May 17, 2018

This Wednesday, May 16, 2018, image provided by the U.S. Geological Survey shows sulfur dioxide plumes rising from fissures along the rift and accumulating in the cloud deck, viewed from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory overflight in the morning at 8:25 a.m., HST near Pahoa, Hawaii. Plumes range from 1 to 2 kilometers (3,000 to 6,000 feet) above the ground. Officials say some vents formed by Kilauea volcano are releasing such high levels of sulfur dioxide that the gas poses an immediate danger to anyone nearby. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — The Latest on the eruption of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii (all times local):

5:35 p.m.

Hawaii Army National Guard commander Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara says he’s anticipating potentially having to evacuate about 1,000 people from the Puna area where Kilauea volcano is erupting lava.

Hara told reporters in Hilo on Wednesday the evacuation may be needed if lava covers highways. Blocked highways would cut communities off from stores, schools and the rest of the island.

Hara says it’s hard to know how many may need to evacuate. He says many people may stay because they are self-sufficient.

He says Hawaii National Guard CH-47 helicopters are currently training in Texas to prepare to deploy to Kuwait. But he’s able to request forces from the U.S. Pacific Command.

Hara says there are currently about 1,200 soldiers and nine UH-60 helicopters currently training on the Big Island.

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4:55 p.m.

Earthquakes are damaging roads and buildings on Hawaii’s Big Island on Wednesday as ash emissions stream from Kilauea volcano.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says the strongest shaking was recorded around 8:30 a.m., measured as a 4.4-magnitude earthquake, and earthquakes are expected to continue.

The floor of the summit crater has fallen about three feet (90 centimeters) as the lava lake drops inside. The deflation on the ground as lava level falls is causing stress faults around the crater to move, resulting in the earthquakes.

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2:30 p.m.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has found dense, large rocks roughly two feet in diameter (60 centimeters) in a parking lot a few hundred yards (meters) away from Kilauea’s summit crater. This indicates a stronger explosion occurred Tuesday evening, spewing the rocks out of the summit.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists say larger rocks were expelled during similar, stronger explosions that occurred in 1924. They expect similar and possibly stronger explosions to occur from the summit crater.

The Hawaii Police Department says cracks have formed on a highway near the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Much of the park remains closed.

“We’re all safe, and I wish they’d open the park back up, but they have to keep it safe for everybody,” said Ken McGilvray, an area resident. “We live on a volcano!”

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12:25 p.m.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige says the state is forming a joint task force that could handle mass evacuations of the Big Island’s Puna district if lava from Kilauea volcano covers major roads and isolates the area.

Hawaii National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara will have the authority to command both National Guard and active duty military forces in the task force.

The troops may be needed for emergency evacuations, search and rescue, clearing debris and other duties.

Ige says he received approval for the task force from U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday.

Earthquakes continue to shake the Big Island, with the most severe at around 8:30 a.m. producing a 4.4 magnitude quake. A 4.0 quake hit at 11:36 a.m. There was no tsunami alert.

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11:30 a.m.

Officials in Hawaii say volcanic emissions from the summit at Kilauea volcano on the Big Island have decreased, prompting the cancellation of an ash fall advisory.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says there are occasional bursts of ash coming from the crater. The burst causes the ash to fall downwind to several communities, but there are only trace amounts.

Earthquakes continue to shake the Big Island, with the most severe at around 8:30 a.m. producing a 4.4 magnitude quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says there is no tsunami alert at this time.

Scientists say earthquakes may shake loose rocks underground and open up new tunnels for lava to flow.

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8 a.m.

A geophysicist says a plume that’s rising from the Kilauea volcano summit on Hawaii’s Big Island does not contain as much ash as it did on Tuesday.

Mike Poland with the U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday the plume seems to be made largely of rock dust.

Because there’s little wind, the plume for the most part is rising vertically over the summit.

USGS scientists will not monitor the plume from a summit observatory because of fears of falling ash.

Instead, they will operate from a backup command center at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Warnings to pilots are still in place because of the plume that reached 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) Tuesday.

The volcano has been spewing lava from fissures that opened up on its flanks for two weeks.

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