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Mauna Loa, Hawaii’s biggest volcano, erupts for 1st time in 40 years.

Click to play video: 'Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, world’s largest active volcano, erupts'

Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, erupted on Sunday evening in Hawaii. The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) said lava flows were contained to the summit and did not threaten any downslope communities.

Mauna Loa is erupting for the first time in almost 40 years.

The volcano, located on Hawaii’s Big Island, began to spew ash late Sunday night, according to local authorities.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the eruption of the world’s largest active volcano began in the summit caldera of Mauna Loa around 11:30 p.m. HST.

By early Monday morning, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the lava flows do not pose a threat to nearby communities at this point and that the flows are contained within the summit area.

“However, lava flows in the summit region are visible from Kona. There is currently no indication of any migration of the eruption into a rift zone,” the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) said in a statement.

A rift zone is where the mountain is splitting apart, the rock is cracked and relatively weak and it’s easier for magma to emerge.

Miel Corbett, a USGS spokesperson, told The Associated Press that it’s impossible to predict how long the volcano will erupt and did not rule out a potential threat to populated areas of the Big Island.

“But I can tell you, we’re in constant communication right now with Hawaii Civil Defense, and they’re providing updates to community members,” she said.

Just to be sure, the USGS is warning residents to be on alert and to review their plans should the lava begin to pose a threat. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is also asking residents to stay inside, as harmful ash is expected to fall from the volcano.

Additionally, the Hawaii Country Civil Defense Agency has opened two shelters in case residents need to leave their homes.

Ken Hon, the scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcanos Observatory, told AP that Mauna Loa’s eruptions tend to be at their largest volume within the first few days of eruption and then tend to taper off.

“After a few days, it starts to calm down a little bit,” he said.

In pictures captured by a webcam set up by the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the volcano can be seen releasing steam on Sunday, with more steam being released as the day went on. By the early morning hours of Monday, the summit caldera was ablaze with lava.

You can watch the eruption unfold on the webcam page.

“If you look carefully around early morning or late evening, you may see a few thermal areas emitting steam,” the USGS said on the webcam page.

Online, Hawaiians and tourists shared photos of the volcano erupting from a distance during sunrise Monday morning, casting the sky in a bright red hue.

Portions of the Big Island are under an ashfall advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu, which said ash could accumulate in some areas.

The USGS also said the HVO would also begin aerial reconnaissance as soon as possible to assess hazards and better define the eruption.

Over a dozen earthquakes of more than 2.5 magnitude struck the region early Monday, according to the USGS, with one measuring 4.2 in magnitude. This follows a period of heightened seismic unrest that began in September of this year.

Mauna Loa, which takes up more than half of the Big Island and rises 4,169 metres above the Pacific Ocean, last erupted in March and April of 1984, sending a flow of lava within eight kilometres of the city of Hilo.

— With files from Reuters

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