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Flows into ocean resume
A 25-acre section of lava collapsed in the same area in 1996, throwing rock debris as far as 3,300 feet inland, Heliker said.
"That's one of the reasons we've been leery of this bench," she said. "It's a pretty big one."
The lava bench was formed by molten rock coming from the Puu Oo vent of the volcano, which has been erupting continuously since Jan. 3, 1983.
Over time, cracks formed parallel to the shoreline, and the collapse generally followed them, Heliker said.
Portions of the bench that remain intact form a bay that is receiving fresh lava in an area known at the East Laeapuki lava delta, about 2.7 miles past the ranger hut at the end of Chain of Craters Road. Park visitors are permitted to hike about 1.7 miles beyond the end of the road.
"The good news is that no one got hurt," said Jim Gale, chief interpreter at the park. "There are no search and rescue crews, and no one is reported missing.
"We kept people back for exactly this reason," Gale said. "To me this park is about letting people see the volcano happen. Yet we want everyone to be safe and respectful of the culture."
Park officials have provided an interpretive photo exhibit at its visitors center to help people view and understand what happened, Gale said.
In addition, the observatory has continuously updated information and photos of the eruption on its Web site.