San Diego

Masks Help Hawaii Cope With Ash Plume, Toxic Air

“Everyone's a little bit worried," said Andre Lupian, a South Bay resident now living on the Big Island

Five volunteers from San Diego are helping residents of Hawaii as ash spreads from this week’s explosion of the Kilauea Volcano.

The explosion came shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday following two weeks of volcanic activity that sent lava flows into neighborhoods and destroyed at least 26 homes.

Winds blew much of the 30,000-foot plume away from people but there were reports of a light dusting of ash and the smell of sulfur.

Lindsey Magnani and her family picked up masks Thursday afternoon in the community of Volcano which is a few miles northeast of the volcano’s summit.

"This morning it smelled like sulfur so we had to close all the windows," Magnani said.

Authorities handed out around 2,000 masks for protection as people braced for pulverized rock, glass, and crystal.

The Red Cross of San Diego has sent 5 volunteers to Hawaii to help with the hundreds of people displaced and prepare for the potential for more evacuations.

“The main role we fill is making sure that we are able to give people a safe place to stay,” said Emily Cox, Regional Communications Director Red Cross. “Between running a shelter and distributing supplies and helping with the organization of the response."

Andre Lupian, a South Bay resident who now lives on Hawaii, spoke with NBC 7 about conditions 60 miles from the Kilauea Volcano.

“Everyone's a little bit worried but at the same time, you just gotta kind of go with it,” Lupian said. “See what happens and deal with the air quality."

The recent eruptions have been making it difficult to breathe.

People are complaining about itchy eyes and scratchy throats, Lupian said.

"The people that are getting sick are the ones working outside,” he said. “I'm pretty sure people are going to start wearing masks just to be safe. Something we are seeing a little bit more."

Geologists are warning the volcano can become more violent due to an increase in ash production. There is also potential that future blast could send boulders flying into the air.

The Federal Aviation Administration extended a restriction on aircraft from entering the airspace up to 30,000 feet above sea level. The earlier limit was up to 10,000 feet. The prohibition applies to a 5-mile radius around the crater.

Thursday's eruption did not affect the Big Island's two largest airports in Hilo and in Kailua-Kona.

Kilauea has also been erupting lava into neighborhoods 25 miles to the east of the summit crater since May 3. It opened a new lava vent in the area -- the 21st such fissure -- on Thursday.

Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, has been erupting continuously since 1983. It's among the five volcanoes that form the Big Island, and it's the only one actively erupting. An eruption in 1924 killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.

The San Diego volunteers are scheduled to return in approximately two weeks. 

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