National News

In Hawaii, Kilauea Volcano Erupts, Spewing Lava Near Homes

Posted May 4, 2018 2:13 p.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2018 2:18 p.m. EDT

Volcanic eruptions that forced evacuations on the island of Hawaii brought a new threat on Friday: High levels of sulfur dioxide gasses that can be dangerous for children and older adults.

Debris began spattering from the Kilauea volcano around 5 p.m. Thursday. Photos and drone footage showed cracks opening across green yards and roadways and molten rock bursting out. White, hot vapor and blue fumes began to rise.

Hawaii County ordered the mandatory evacuation of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and continued to on Friday. Officials opened two community centers to shelter people who fled their homes. No deaths or injuries were reported.

One resident, Ikaika Marzo, told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser that lava fountains were shooting 150 feet into the air about 5:30 p.m. and that lava had spread over a 200-yard-wide area behind a house in Leilani Estates.

“It sounds like a jet engine. It’s going hard,” he told the newspaper.

Leilani Estates had a population of 1,560 in the 2010 census, but residents say the evacuations could affect thousands of people.

“People are scared,” said Matthew Purvis, a pastor who runs a bakery in the town of Pahoa.

“It’s not just evacuating people; it’s their things and their animals and their livelihoods,” he added.

Purvis drove a van into the threatened subdivisions to help residents flee.

“I don’t think people thought this would actually happen,” he said. “It was just a moment’s notice. It’s pretty wild.”

The Hawaii Volcano Observatory said white vapor and blue fumes began emanating from the cracked areas Thursday afternoon, followed by spatter — blobs of lava blown into the air — just before 5 p.m.

“The opening phases of fissure eruptions are dynamic,” the observatory warned. “Additional vents and new lava outbreaks may occur and at this time it is not possible to say where new vents may occur.”

An eruption from the Puu Oo’ cone of Kilauea in 1983 has continued to flow, destroying houses in the Royal Gardens subdivision. In 1990 more than 100 homes in the Kalapana community were destroyed by lava flow.

An eruption from Kilauea in 2014 flowed down the surface of the volcano and burned a house in Pahoa. Now residents worry that more structures could be threatened in the area, which is one of the fastest-growing in the state.

“Living on a volcano, everybody has got pretty thick skin. They know the risk,” said Ryan Finlay, who lives in Pahoa and runs an online trade school. “Lava for the most part has flown to the ocean the last 30 years. Everybody gets in a comfort zone. The last couple weeks, everything changed.”