The volcano has now destroyed 27 homes and forced 1800 people to leave their residences since Friday’s initial eruption spewed lava and toxic gas from volcanic vents in the eastern corner of Hawai‘i’s Big Island, home to about 200,000 people.
A new fissure opened on Sunday night in the Leilani Estate residential area, 19 km from the volcano, prompting a cellphone alert for residents to leave homes to avoid sulphur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.
So far no deaths or major injuries have been reported, the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency said.
Evacuees from Leilani Estates were allowed to return briefly to their homes for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday.
The semi-rural wooded area of Leilani Estates had become a magnet for newcomers to Hawai‘i who were prepared to risk living near an active volcano for more affordable real-estate.
Resident Jeremy Wilson found his home surrounded by fissures hundreds of metres long.
“My house is right in the middle,” said Wilson, a 36-year-old social worker who turned back when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road.
Hawai‘i County spokeswoman Janet Snyder said on Sunday that officials are not sure exactly how many of the estimated 1800 residents in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions have actually evacuated.
“You’ve got people who are sheltering with their relatives, friends, in their cars. So it’s very hard for us to know how many people actually did evacuate,” she said. There also are people who have stayed “for whatever reason,” she said.
“We are urging them to evacuate immediately because of elevated sulphur dioxide levels,” Snyder said. “The air quality is very bad.”
Eruptions of lava and gas are expected to continue, along with aftershocks from Friday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest in the area since 1975, according to the Hawai‘ian Volcano Observatory.
Hawai‘i authorities asked lava watchers to keep away, saying, “This is not the time for sightseeing.”
- PNC sources