By Terray Sylvester
PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) - New, fast-moving lava poured from the flank of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on Saturday, destroying four more homes on the Big Island after a second explosive eruption shot a nearly two-mile-high (10,000 foot) ash plume from the crater.
Molten rock from two huge cracks formed a single channel and traveled 1,000 feet in under an hour, twice the speed of previous flows of older lava that have torn through homes, roads and tropical forest for over two weeks, the County of Hawaii's Civil Defense Agency said.
The new lava, which is flowing east underground from the sinking lava lake at Kilauea's summit, is expected to create more voluminous flows that travel further, threatening homes and a coastal road that is a key exit route for around 2,000 residents.
"There is much more stuff coming out of the ground and its going to produce flows that will move much further away," said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall on a conference call with reporters.
Up at the volcano's summit, some 25 miles (40 km) to the east, the second large explosive eruption occurred around midnight, with winds blowing ash onto communities southwest of the crater, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported.
Scientists expect Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, to experience a series of explosive eruptions that could spread ash and volcanic smog across the Big Island, the southernmost of the Hawaiian archipelago. That could pose a hazard to jet engines if it blows into aircraft routes around 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).
There have been no reported injuries or deaths since the latest eruption began on May 3.
Lava crossed a road on Friday near the Leilani Gardens housing development in lower Puna district, cutting off around 40 homes and forcing the helicopter evacuation of four residents by Hawaii National Guard, authorities said.
Around 2,000 residents of Leilani Estates and Laipuna Gardens housing areas have faced mandatory evacuations due to at least 22 volcanic cracks that have opened since May 3.
Many thousands more residents of the area have voluntarily left their homes due to life-threatening levels of toxic sulfur dioxide gas spewing from vents in the volcanic fissures.
A further 2,000 residents of coastal communities may face compulsory evacuation if lava from the fissures blocks the oceanside Highway 137.
(Reporting by Terray Sylvester, additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; editing by G Crosse)