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The new burst of ash came as a new fissure opened on the Big Island, where the crater is located, bringing to 20 the total number of lava-oozing cracks caused by the volcano eruption on May 3.

The USGS changed the volcano's warning level to red alert on Tuesday, indicating that a major eruption is imminent and that ash could pose a threat on land as well as in the air for aviation.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says an ash plume from within Kilauea volcano's summit crater has risen as high as 12,000 feet above sea level.

Dense, large rocks roughly two feet in diameter (60 centimeters) were found in a parking lot a few hundred yards away from Kilauea's summit crater, which reflect the "most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity", the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in a statement, and continues to monitor activity.

The U.S. Geological Survey upgraded the aviation warning for Kilauea from orange to red Tuesday afternoon, saying ash from the Halemaumau crater had been rising almost continuously and in increased intensity.

The Latest on the eruption of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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Ash is not poisonous but irritates the nose, eyes and airways.

"We had a big list of things to do and maybe 80 per cent of them were in the national park", he said, after stopping by the side of the road to watch ash plumes rising into the air. Big Island summer hotel bookings have dropped by nearly half from past year, Rob Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitor Bureau, told journalists on a conference call.

The area taking the brunt of the eruption is about 25 miles down Kilauea's eastern flank, near the village of Pahoa.

Geologists have warned that if Kilauea erupts, the volcano could hurl ash and boulders miles into the sky.

They have been prevented from returning home by toxic gases, falling ash and fissures which opened in the ground and began spewing molten lava.