Quakes, lava and gas: Hawaii residents flee volcanic threats

  • Hawaii Fire Department battalion chief Darwin Okinaka points to a map where recent volcanic eruptions have occurred on Friday, May 4, 2018, at Leilani Estates in Pahoa, Hawaii. Civil defense has set up a command center at the entrance to the subdivision, and authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

  • This photo provided by Hawaii Electric Light shows lava flowing over Mohala Street in the Leilani Estates area near Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii Friday, May 4, 2018. Nearly 1,500 people have fled from their homes after Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano sent molten lava chewing through forests and bubbling up on paved streets in an eruption that one resident described as “a curtain of fire.” (Hawaii Electric Light via AP)

  • This photo provided by Shane Turpin shows results of the eruption from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island Friday, May 4, 2018. The eruption sent molten lava through forests and bubbling up from paved streets and forced the evacuation of about 1,500 people who were still out of their homes Friday after Thursday’s eruption. (Shane Turpin/seeLava.com via AP)

  • This photo provided by Shane Turpin shows results of the eruption from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island Friday, May 4, 2018. The eruption sent molten lava through forests and bubbling up from paved streets and forced the evacuation of about 1,500 people who were still out of their homes Friday after Thursday’s eruption. (Shane Turpin/seeLava.com via AP)

  • National guardsmen and police stand at the entrance to Leilani Estates, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, Hawaii. A mandatory evacuation for the area as declared by the state. Due to unsafe conditions in the area from the recent lava eruption, residents who evacuated could not return to their homes Friday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

  • In this photo released by U.S. Geological Survey, lava is shown burning in Leilani Estates subdivision near the town of Pahoa on Hawaii’s Big Island Thursday, May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea volcano erupted Thursday, sending lava shooting into the air in the residential neighborhood and prompting mandatory evacuation orders for nearby residents. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

  • After a mandatory evacuation due to a lava eruption yesterday, Leilani Estates residents line up on the road leading to the area, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, Hawaii. Due to unsafe conditions in the area, authorities were not allowing residents back to their homes, Friday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

  • Authorities stationed at an entrance to the Leilani Estates refuse entrance to a resident, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, Hawaii. A mandatory evacuation for the area as declared by the state. Due to unsafe conditions in the area from the recent lava eruption, residents who evacuated could not return to their homes Friday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

  • This photo provided by Shane Turpin shows a cracked road after the eruption from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island Friday, May 4, 2018. The Kilauea volcano sent more lava into Hawaii communities Friday, a day after forcing nearly 1,500 people to flee from their mountainside homes, and authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems. (Shane Turpin/seeLava.com via AP)

  • At 10:30 HST, ground shaking from a preliminary magnitude-5.0 earthquake south of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō caused rockfalls and possibly additional collapse into the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō crater on Kilauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone. (USGS photo / Kevan Kamibayashi)

  • In this photo released by U.S. Geological Survey, a plume of ash rises from the Puu Oo vent on Hawaii’s Kilaueaa Volcano after a magnitude 5.0 earthquake, Thursday, May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted Thursday, sending lava shooting into the air in a residential neighborhood and prompting mandatory evacuation orders for nearby homes. Hawaii County said steam and lava poured out of a crack in Leilani Estates, which is near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

  • The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported a high rate of earthquakes occurring overnight as seismic activity moves east toward Kapoho. (USGS/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Dots represent earthquakes within the past day. Courtesy of Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

PAHOA, Hawaii — Many rural residents living on an erupting volcano in Hawaii fled the threat of lava that spewed into the air in bursts of fire and pushed up steam from cracks in roadways Friday, while others tried to get back to their homes.

Officials ordered more than 1,700 people out of Big Island neighborhoods near Kilauea volcano’s newest lava flow, warning of the dangers of spattering hot rock and high levels of sulfuric gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems. Two homes have burned.

Adding to the chaos, the island’s largest earthquake in more than 40 years, a magnitude-6.9, struck near the south part of the volcano, following a smaller quake that rattled the same area.

Officials said highways, buildings and utility lines were not damaged, but residents said they felt strong shaking and more stress as they dealt with the dual environmental phenomena.

Communities in the mostly rural Puna district, which sits on Kilauea’s eastern flank, know it is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and have seen its destruction before.

Julie Woolsey evacuated her home late Thursday as a volcanic vent, or an opening in the Earth’s surface where lava emerges, sprouted up on her street in the Leilani Estates neighborhood.

Lava was about 1,000 yards from her home, which Woolsey built on a lot purchased for $35,000 11 years ago after living on Maui became too expensive.

“We knew we were building on an active volcano,” she said, but added that she thought the danger from lava was a remote possibility.

She said she thought it was remote even days ago when she began packing and preparing to evacuate.

“You can’t really predict what Pele is going to do,” Woolsey said, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess. “It’s hard to keep up. We’re hoping our house doesn’t burn down.”

She let her chickens loose, loaded her dogs into her truck and evacuated with her daughter and grandson. She’s staying at a cabin with her daughter’s in-laws.

Two new volcanic vents, from which lava is spurting, developed Friday, bringing the number formed to five.

Scientists were processing data from the earthquakes to see if they were affecting the eruption, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb said.

“The magma moving down the rift zones, it causes stress on the south flank of the volcano,” she said. “We’re just getting a series of earthquakes.”

State Sen. Russell Ruderman said he’s experienced many earthquakes, but the magnitude-5.4 temblor that hit first “scared the heck out of me.” Merchandise fell off the shelves in a natural food store he owns.

When the larger quake followed, he said he felt strong shaking in Hilo, the island’s largest city that is roughly 45 minutes from the rural Puna area.

“We’re all rattled right now,” he said. “It’s one thing after another. It’s feeling kind of stressful out here.”

State officials didn’t report damage to roadways. Hawaii County Acting Mayor Wil Okabe said the larger quake cracked a beam in a county gymnasium in Hilo, forcing workers to be sent home.

Hawaii Electric Light said the jolt knocked out power to about 14,400 customers, but electricity was restored about two hours later.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park evacuated all visitors and non-emergency staff. The quakes triggered rock slides on park trails and crater walls. Narrow fissures appeared on the ground at a building overlooking the crater at Kilauea’s summit.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Community College both closed campuses to allow students and employees to “attend to personal business and priorities.”

Authorities already had closed a long stretch of Highway 130, one of the main arteries through Puna, because of the threat of sulfuric gas.

At Leilani Estates, where lava was pushing through cracks in the earth, some residents still wanted to get home.

Brad Stanfill said the lava was more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from his house but he was not allowed in because of a mandatory evacuation order. He was frustrated because he wanted to feed his rabbits and dogs and check on his property.

One woman angrily told police guarding Leilani Estates that she was going in and they couldn’t arrest her. She stormed past police unopposed.

Leilani Estates has about 1,700 residents and 770 homes. A nearby neighborhood, Lanipuna Gardens, which has a few dozen people, also has been evacuated.

Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 and is one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island. Activity picked up earlier this week, indicating a possible new lava outbreak.

The crater floor began to collapse Monday, triggering earthquakes and pushing the lava into new underground chambers. The collapse caused magma to push more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) downslope toward the populated southeast coastline.

Residents have faced lava threats before.

In 2014, lava burned a house and destroyed a cemetery near the town of Pahoa. Residents were worried it would cover the town’s main road and cut off the community from the rest of the island, but the molten rock stalled.

From 1990 through 1991, lava slowly overtook the town of Kalapana, burning homes and covering roads and gardens.

Kilauea hasn’t been the kind of volcano that shoots lava from its summit into the sky, causing widespread destruction. It tends to ooze lava from fissures in its sides, which often gives residents at least a few hours’ warning before it reaches their property.

———

Associated Press writers Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Audrey McAvoy and Sophia Yan in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

0 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.