Number of homes destroyed by lava grows to 9; eruptions continue

Number of homes destroyed by lava grows to 9; eruptions continue 3
Number of homes destroyed by lava grows to 9; eruptions continue
Number of homes destroyed by lava grows to 9; eruptions continue 2
Number of homes destroyed by lava grows to 9; eruptions continue
Posted at 4:13 PM, May 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-06 12:25:59-04

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - An additional lava fissure opened Saturday night in the Big Island's Leilani Estates subdivision, sending lava fountains soaring as high as 230 feet in the air and destroying at least four homes, bringing the total number of structures claimed by eruptions to nine. 

Meanwhile, officials announced Sunday that conditions permitting, Leilani Estates residents with homes located between Highway 130 and Maile Street will be allowed to enter the subdivision to grab pets, medicine, and vital documents. The window to return will close at 6 p.m. Sunday. 

The new Kilauea fissure was reported about 9 p.m., and is the ninth reported in the Puna subdivision since Thursday night. It was spewing lava at Luana Street, and video captured in the area shows eruptions sending lava flying into the air.

The USGS confirmed those fountains reached as high as a 23-story building. 

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials planned to take an aerial tour of the area Sunday morning to assess the damage.

On Sunday, authorities also stressed that the situation remains dynamic — and dangerous — and that it's unlikely activity along the east rift zone of Kilauea volcano will be ending anytime soon.

With the newest lava fissure, authorities are also renewing warnings about dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide present in Leilani Estates.

That's among the reasons evacuees will have to wait longer before given the chance to return — even if briefly — to get additional items and check on pets. On Friday, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said he hoped to allow residents the chance to briefly return. But on Saturday, officials said the danger was too high and the earliest residents could go back would be Sunday. 

On Saturday night, about 240 people and 90 pets were in two American Red Cross of Hawaii emergency shelters, while hundreds more residents were staying with friends and family.

"Some people are definitely going to be losing some stuff today if this keeps going," said Shane Turpin, a resident of Leilani Estates with Lava Ocean Tours.

Turpin posted a video to Facebook early Saturday morning with a video depicting what is believed to be the eighth large fissure, surrounded by flames.

"It's moving fast, I watched it go about two poles, this thing is 100 yards long ... it's going," Turpin said.

Meanwhile, overnight earthquake activity continued on Friday with a 3.4-magnitude quake jolting Leilani Estates at 6:24 a.m. along with several other smaller tremors.

A large, 6.9-magnitude quake hit Hawaii Island on Friday afternoon, just an hour after another sizable quake, amid an ongoing eruption of Kilauea that's triggered mandatory evacuations in Leilani Estates, sent lava spewing into streets and threatened homes.

The tremor, which happened about 12:30 p.m., was the largest in Hawaii since 1975 and generated small tsunami waves around the Big Island. Hawaii County Civil Defense said sea fluctuations ranged from 8 inches in Hilo to 16 inches at Kapoho.

The temblor, centered on the south flank of Kilauea, was felt as far away as Oahu and also triggered several landslides along the Hamakua Coast, including one that closed a lane for several hours. 

After the quake, about 14,000 customers lost power in Kaumana, Hilo and Puna. Power has since been restored.

The temblor came about an hour after a 5.4 magnitude shook the Big Island on Friday morning, which was followed by a fifth eruption spewing lava into Leilani Estates. That quake was also centered near the south flank of Kilauea — about 18 kilometers southwest of Leilani Estates, the USGS reported.  

The quakes added to an already dangerous situation in the Big Island's Leilani Estates, the Puna community of about 1,700 people that's been ground zero for the volcanic activity. 

Hawaii County Civil Defense authorities said the situation in the subdivision continues to get more dangerous and have issued this ominous warning to households that choose not to heed mandatory orders to leave: "First responders may not be able to come to the aid of residents who refuse to evacuate."

Mayor Kim reiterated that warning Friday, but also sought to reassure residents, saying they could return to their homes as soon as the area was deemed safe.

"All of us have got to remember this is a tragedy on them and we have to work .... to minimize it as best as possible," Kim said. "I’m from Puna so I am not going to be a hypocritical. That’s my home and I love Puna. There is no place to me more beautiful ... and we know the hazards."

The eruptions are threatening entire sections of the subdivision. Dramatic images show lava bubbling up from the ground and soaring more than 100 feet in the air. Residents described the sound of the eruptions as haunting — "hissing" and "like a freight train." 

Civil Defense said all Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivision residents are required to evacuate immediately.

Kim also said though the eruptions are mainly affecting this particular region of Puna, surrounding areas should also be on alert. "In regards to activity of lava itself, yes, we’re gonna monitor it very carefully and be ready to evacuate or identify different areas," Kim said.

In addition to larger quakes, the Big Island continues to get rattled by smaller tremors — dozens each day.

Resident Ikaika Marzo said he could feel several quakes shake the area in the early morning hours before the second eruption in the community around 1:30 a.m. Friday.  

The first eruption in the subdivision started Thursday afternoon and had ended by about 6:30 p.m., after creating a fissure that sent lava soaring as high as 125 feet into the air. About 10:30 p.m., geologists confirmed the fissure (whose length was not immediately clear) was no longer erupting.

They stressed, however, that new lava outbreaks remain a possibility. 

"The opening phases of fissure eruptions are dynamic and uncertain. It is not possible at this time to say when and where new vents may occur," the observatory said, in its latest update. "Areas downslope of an erupting fissure or vent are at risk of lava inundation. At this time, the general area of the Leilani subdivision appears at greatest risk."

Two emergency shelters remain open for evacuees — one at Pahoa Community and the Keaau Community centers. 

Within hours of the eruption Thursday, Gov. David Ige had activated the Hawaii National Guard and issued an emergency disaster proclamation. FEMA is also mobilizing resources.

In an interview with Hawaii News Now, Ige urged evacuees to "stay calm" and continue to stay tuned to emergency alerts. 

Those residents fled their homes Thursday evening with few belongings — just what they could collect in the minutes they had to leave, as officers went door-to-door to ensure everyone got out. One resident said he grabbed his father's ashes as he ran out the door. 

"My family is safe, the rest of the stuff can be replaced," another resident said. "When I bought here 14 years, I knew that this day would eventually come. But the reality is sinking in now."

Some residents seemed in disbelief at what they were seeing in their own backyards. In social media posts, they documented lava sputtering up from cracks in the roadway and then angrily boiling up higher and higher.

Marzo was among the first people in Leilani Estates to spot the active lava. And as soon as he did, he started notifying anyone he could find.

"When we drove on that road, we heard a noise in the forest and it was like a little thump," he said. "Next thing, like three to five seconds after that, we smelled sulfur. After that, that's when there was tons of sulfur. Then we saw some lava popping out."

The first signs of trouble in Leilani Estates were apparent around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, when residents reported plumes of smoke spewing from cracks in the road. On Wednesday, cracks were also reported on the road in Leilani Estates, but officials reported they did not pose a lava threat. 

Still, the cracks added to residents' anxieties as the quakes didn't let up.

"Last night, we started having them ... about five a minute. It was like that just about all night long," said Chris Burmeister, who lives in Leilani Estates. "It'll rumble for a little bit. Rumble for a little bit. And then every now and then, you'll get just a heavy jolt."

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there were nearly 70 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or stronger from Tuesday to Wednesday.  Amid the increase in earthquake activity, scientists installed additional GPS monitoring equipment and deployed crews to put in even more monitoring tools.


► 2 large earthquakes at Kilauea felt as far away as Oahu

► Quake that shook Big Island was biggest in Hawaii since 1975

► LIST: Shelter opens, schools closed as a result of lava threat at Kilauea

► The 1955 outbreak Kilauea's newest eruption is being compared to went on for months

► After eruption, residents fled with little — and didn't know what they'd return home to

Authorities have compared the newest eruption of Kilauea along the south rift zone to an eruption in February 1955, in which at least 24 separate volcanic vents opened up and lava covered about 3,900 acres. 

Back then, coastal communities from Kalapana to Kapoho were evacuated and "sections of every public road to the coastline were buried by lava" before the eruption abruptly stopped in May 1955.

On Wednesday, amid fears of an eruption, Hawaii County has closed the Kalapana lava viewing area. The area can draw 500 to more than 2,000 visitors, depending on the level of volcanic activity. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was also subsequently closed to all visitors.

The last time lava threatened Puna was in 2014, when a flow closed roads for weeks in Pahoa, forced evacuations and claimed several structures, including one home. 

This story will be updated.

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