Volcano preparedness: What to know when lava starts to flow

Lava Flows Burning Vegetation / Tim Orr, U.S. Geological Survey
Residents of Hawaii’s Big Island are on alert this week as a hot stream of lava oozes its way from the Kilauea volcano. The lava is set to destroy houses and buildings in its path, and many residents have evacuated.

While lava is a threat to lives and property, there are other unhealthy and unsafe things about volcanoes. Smoke, gases, and ash are unhealthy for very young and older people because they can be irritating to breathe. If someone has asthma or lung problems, they can make things worse.

Other health hazards include burns and drinking water contamination. A volcanic eruption can lead to additional disasters, too, such as mudslides, floods, tsunamis and wildfires.

How can you protect yourself and family from a volcano?
  • Become familiar with your community’s warning systems, evacuation routes and shelter locations well ahead of time.
  • Create an emergency supply kit and have it ready to go in case of evacuation.
  • Remain alert, listen and watch for information from authorities. Follow evacuation orders immediately and completely. 
  • If you or someone in your family has lung disease, consider evacuating early, because the air may not be healthy to breath.
  • If caught indoors during an eruption or if officials have ordered residents to shelter in place,  immediately close all windows, doors and ventilation sources; turn off air conditioning and heating systems; and move to an interior, windowless room that is above ground level.
  • To protect yourself from falling volcanic ash, stay indoors and place damp towels in the spaces between the doors and the ground. If you go outside, wear long sleeves and pants, put on a disposable facemask and wear goggles.
  • After an eruption, avoid driving in heavy ash fall.
Read our Get Ready volcano fact sheet for more tips on preparing for and staying safe during a volcanic eruption.

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