National News

This isn't the first time volcanic lava has spread in Hawaii residential areas

Posted May 4, 2018 12:27 a.m. EDT

— Hawaii's famous Kilauea volcano has spewed lava for decades, becoming a major tourist destination even as it threatened nearby residents.

The volcano erupted again Thursday after hundreds of earthquakes rattled the area this week, including a magnitude 5.0 temblor.

White, hot vapor and blue fumes started emanating from cracks Thursday afternoon, Hawaii County officials said. Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions were under mandatory evacuation after a giant crack started spreading lava in the area.

Fire officials warned they've detected extremely high levels of sulfur dioxide in evacuated areas and warned residents to stay away.

Major tourist attraction

The Kilauea volcano is the youngest and most active on the island of Hawaii, and has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, according to the US Geological Survey. It's in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a major tourist attraction.

Aerial shots show the Puu Oo volcanic vent southeast of Kilauea's caldera churning smoke after the eruption.

"The summit crater hosts an active lava pond and a vigorous gas plume," the USGS says. "Kīlauea ranks among the world's most active volcanoes and may even top the list."

Kilauea lava flows have threatened communities numerous times. "From 1983, when the Puu Oo eruption began ... residential areas were threatened and homes were lost," said Janet Babb of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

"Any time lava poses a threat to residents, it's a big deal."

There are 770 structures and 1,700 people in the area under mandatory evacuation, said Cindy McMillan, a spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige.

At least 4 active volcanoes

The Big Island has at least four active volcanoes, with Kilauea the most active.

"Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843, with the most recent eruption in 1984," the USGS says. "Loihi, the submarine volcano located off the south coast of Kilauea, erupted most recently in 1996."

Hualalai has erupted three times in the 1,000 years.