Light coats of gritty ash fall near erupting Hawaii volcano

Joe Laceby, 47, of Volcano, Hawaii, watches Thursday as ash rises from the summit crater of Kilauea volcano in Volcano, Hawaii. Laceby said he has sealed up his home and has gas masks to protect himself from the volcanic gases ash that is falling in the area. (AP photo)

VOLCANO, Hawaii — Authorities handed out ash around 2,000 masks for protection as people living near Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano braced for pulverized rock, glass and crystal to rain down on them after an explosive eruption at the peak’s summit.

Lindsey Magnani, her fiance Elroy Rodrigues and their two children picked up masks for their family Thursday afternoon at Cooper Center in Volcano, Hawaii.

Magnani said both of her children — Kahele Rodrigues, 2, and Kayden Rodrigues, 3 months old — were doing OK, but her and her fiance had both been sneezing all day.

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

Most residents found only thin coatings of ash, if they saw any at all, as winds blew much of the 30,000-foot (9,100-meter) plume away from people.

“It was a grit, like a sand at the beach,” said Joe Laceby, who lives in the town of Volcano a few miles to the northeast of Kilauea’s summit. The ash was a bit of an irritant, he said, but “not too bad.”

Laceby sealed windows and cracks in his home with cellophane wrap to keep out ash and volcanic gases.

He has gas masks to protect himself from the toxic fumes and ash.

The explosion at Kilauea’s summit 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.

Scientists said the eruption was the most powerful in recent days, though it probably lasted only a few minutes.

Geologists have warned that the volcano could become even more violent, with increasing ash production and the potential that future blasts could hurl boulders the size of cows from the summit.