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Erupting Kilauea volcano's alert level is lowered to 'watch'

M. Patrick/AP
USGS Volcanoes
This photo provided by USGS, shows the eruption within in Kilauea volcano's Halemaumau crater at the volcano's summit on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. One of the most active volcanos on Earth is erupting on Hawaii's Big Island. (M. Patrick /USGS via AP)

U.S. Geological Survey officials have lowered the alert level for Kīlauea, saying they expect its latest eruption to remain confined to the summit.

The eruption began last week in Kīlauea volcano's Halemaʻumaʻu crater at the volcano's summit.

Officials with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory had raised Kīlauea's alert level to “warning” and its aviation code to red as they assessed the intensity of lava fountains covering the floor of the crater and billowing clouds of volcanic gas rising in the air.

Over the past several days, a thick layer of molten lava accumulated as a lava lake at the base of the crater, partially drowning the vents, which resulted in subdued fountaining, the observatory said Monday.

Observatory officials on Monday afternoon lowered the alert level to “watch” and the aviation code to orange, “reflecting the less-hazardous nature of the ongoing eruption.”

The eruption remains confined to the crater in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. It's not in an area of the Big Island where there are any homes.

Kīlauea had a major eruption in 2018 that destroyed more than 700 homes and displaced thousands of residents. Before that eruption, the volcano had been slowly erupting for decades, but mostly not in densely populated residential areas.

Ron Hanatani, who has a pottery studio in Volcano Village near the entrance to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, said residents and tourists have been flocking to the park for a glimpse. As a former geologist at the observatory, he's seen more spectacular eruptions than this one over the years.

“Most of the people I know who live here are very excited, so they’ll go multiple times, even at night or early morning, take pictures and all that," he said. "I’m in a minority.”

Village businesses are grateful for the attention during a normally slower time of year for tourists, said Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts and Cafe Ono.

“This one happened very quickly," he said of the eruption. “A lot of local people are coming up to see the caldera.”

Even though he has lived in the area for decades, he's still mesmerized by Kīlauea. “We see the glow at night,” he said. “It's pretty dramatic and beautiful."

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