Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupted anew early today with little sound and only modest fury, spewing a steely gray plume of ash about 9,100 metres into the sky that began raining down on a nearby town.
The explosion at the summit came shortly after 4am local time 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.
Time lapse images taken from a camera at the Gemini Telescope on the Big Island captured the eruption plume just before sunrise.
Some people in the community closest to the volcano slept through the blast, said Kanani Aton, a spokeswoman for Hawaii County Civil Defense, who spoke to relatives and friends in the town called Volcano.
Residents as far away as Hilo, about 50 kilometres from Kilauea, were starting to notice the volcano's effects.
Pua'ena Ahn, who lives in Hilo, complained about having laboured breathing, itchy, watery eyes and some skin irritation from airborne ash.
The National Weather Service issued an ash advisory and then extended it through early evening, and county officials distributed ash masks to area residents.
Several schools closed because of the risk of elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, a volcanic gas.