Worried residents living near an erupting volcano have started evacuating – after scientists issued a red alert warning.
The ongoing eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano, located on Hawaii’s Big Island, sent 200ft lava fountains shooting out of the summit and ash clouds pluming into the atmosphere.
Movement at the Hawaii volcano sparked a series of earthquakes on Sunday as officials told locals to stay indoors.
The USGS said it had opened shelters after reports of people self-evacuating along the South Kona coast.
Cynthia Ebinger, a volcanologist from the Department of Earth Sciences at Tulane University, told Express.co.uk areas around the volcano have already been cordoned off to locals.
She said: “The US Geological Survey has a plan in place for evacuations, and they have already restricted access to the summit and areas around the fissures.”
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has issued a Red Warning alert, which is the highest alert level for people on the ground and flying overhead.
The Hawaii County Civil Defense has also raised the aviation code to red, due to the threat of gas, ash and volcanic glass strands.
The eruption – a first in 38 years – prompted flight operators to cancel journeys in and out from Big Island, where it is located.
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Southwest Airlines cancelled most of its flights in and out of the town of Hilo on Monday due to toxic gas in the air.
Experts also warn lava and debris from the eruption could travel towards Hilo or Kona, main population centres on the island.
On Tuesday afternoon, lava flowed to within around 4.5 miles of Saddle Road – the main highway through the centre of the Big Island.
It is the major route between the population centres of Kailua-Kona and Hilo.
Officials are prepared to evacuate residents if the eruption becomes more severe.
Two shelters have also been opened to house people if the eruption takes a turn for the worse.
Michelle Hiraishi, Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Deputy Director, said: “That is all voluntary evacuations.”
Basic sleeping accommodations are provided as needed, however, residents are still urged to bring their own essential items like medication, immediate needs for water and food, toiletries and personal documents.