(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
PAHALA, Hawaii - A third lava flow from Hawaii's erupting Kilauea volcano streamed into the ocean on Thursday as US Marine Corps helicopters stood by to evacuate a Big Island community should molten rock or huge cracks block its final escape route.
Six huge fissures sent rivers of molten rock through a blackened, volcanic wilderness that was once jungle, farmland and rural homes.
Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, entered the fourth week of what may be an unprecedented, simultaneous eruption at its summit crater and along a six-mile (9.7-km) string of fissures 25 miles (40 km) down its east flank.
At least 50 rural homes and other structures have been destroyed by lava from fissures in a small area of the Big Island. Some 2,000 people have faced mandatory evacuations and another 2,000 in coastal communities may be forced to leave their homes if State Highway 130, their last exit, becomes blocked.
The US Marine Corps deployed two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters to Hilo, about 24 miles north (39 miles), in support of a task force standing by in case an air evacuation is needed. Each helicopter can carry up to 50 people at a time.