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As the lava flows down the mountain and into the ocean, new land forms and this is called a lava bench. As a loose pile of lava fragments accumulates on the ocean floor's steep slope, the unstable bench extends seaward. Although this lava-covered bench looks solid from above, it can collapse unexpectedly under its own weight. The entire area is unstable, so visitors should not approach the steam cloud. Areas the size of several football fields can collapse into the ocean with no warning. Lava builds land out from the newly formed cliffs. This gives the illusion that areas behind the cliffs are solid and stable. However, large areas of new land that form at the ocean's edge collapse regularly into the sea. Such collapses can send waves of scalding sea water on shore and trigger a series of strong explosions that blast lava spatter and hot rocks more than 30 meters inland.

In April 1993 a man entered a closed area and was killed when the half-acre of land he was standing on collapsed. More than 12 others nearby needed medical attention. In December 1996 a 27-acre (.1 square kilometers) bench collapsed into the sea without warning!