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Three lava flows reach coast as volcanic eruption batters Hawaii

Three weeks of activity have opened up nearly two dozen vents, destroyed buildings and sent plumes of ash miles into the sky.

Lava is entering the ocean off Hawaii from a third flow, marking the third week of a volcanic eruption that has opened up nearly two dozen vents, destroyed buildings and sent plumes of ash miles into the sky.

Low lava fountains were erupting from a nearly continuous two-mile (3.22km) portion of the series of fissures that have opened up in the ground, scientists said.

The fountains were feeding lava flows in channels down to the coast. The most eastern channel split, creating three ocean entries on Wednesday.

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The Kilauea volcano has opened more than 20 vents in the ground (George F Lee/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

Since the eruption began on May 3, Hawaii County has ordered about 2,000 people to evacuate from Leilani Estates and surrounding neighbourhoods.

Hawaii officials have said they may need to evacuate a thousand more people if lava crosses key roads and isolates communities in the mostly rural part of the island where Kilauea is erupting.

A blocked highway would cut people off from the only route to shops, schools and hospitals.

The US Marine Corps said it has sent two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from a base near Honolulu to help if more evacuations become necessary.

The volcano has opened more than 20 vents in the ground that have released lava, sulfur dioxide and steam. The lava has been pouring down the flank of the volcano and into the ocean miles away.

Lava has destroyed 50 buildings, including about two dozen homes. One person was seriously injured after being hit by a flying piece of lava.

There continues to be intermittent explosions at the summit that have been sending plumes of ash into the sky.

On Wednesday, the volcano belched a plume that reached about 7,000ft (2,133m), scientists said. Just before the explosion, there was a 3.9 magnitude earthquake at the summit.

“We are kind of in this steady state,” said Wendy Stovall, a scientist at the US Geographical Survey.

There’s no indication about whether lava volume will increase or decrease, she said.

The continued explosions are expected to “last a little while longer”.

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