Kilauea Volcano: Code Red Warning Triggered As Hawaii Braces for 'Imminent' Major Eruption

Officials are warning of a 'worst-case scenario' if evacuation roads become blocked by lava.

What you need to know
  • The US Geological Survey has raised the Kilauea volcano alert code from orange to red
  • Code red indicates a major volcanic eruption is 'imminent'
  • There are concerns some residents will not have enough time to evacuate if a major explosion occurs
  • A 20th fissure has now opened up, spattering lava and steam from the volcano

Residents on Hawaii's Big Island are bracing for even more damage from the Kilauea volcano as authorities lift the alert level to red, indicating a major eruption is imminent.

On Tuesday morning local time, eruption of ash at the volcano's summit was increasing in intensity as the top of the ash cloud reached more than 3500m above sea level, according to the US Geological Survey.

The raised alert level indicates a "major volcanic eruption is imminent, underway or suspected with hazardous activity both on the ground and in the air," USGS said.

"At any time, activity may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent."

Experts earlier predicted a major explosion could cause refrigerator-sized boulders to shoot out from the volcano, with dozens of homes already destroyed from lava seeping out of up to 20 fissures.

More than 2000 residents have already been evacuated since Kilauea first began erupting, however authorities are warning residents to remain on alert for more lava and gas.

The Hawaii National Guard has warned mass evacuations may be triggered if either highway is hit by lava, however there are concerns residents in some areas may become trapped depending on the lava's flow.

“There’s a lot of worst-case scenarios, and roads getting blocked is one of them,” Hawaii National Guard spokesman Jeff Hickman told Reuters.

Residents have received text messages warning of eye and breathing irritation from excessive exposure to toxic gas, after rock falls and gas explosions within the crater caused an ash plume.

"Severe conditions may exist such as choking and inability to breathe," Hawaii County Civil Defense warned.

"Sulfur Dioxide gas from fissures are especially dangerous for elderly, children/babies and people with respiratory problems."

'Lava chasers' and residents in the area have caught spectacular videos of molten rock exploding from fissures, with aerial footage capturing the destructive path of the lava across the region.

US President Donald Trump declared the area a disaster zone on May 11 , approving emergency federal relief funding.

The American Red Cross said 500 people sought refuge in its shelters on Sunday night.