Hawai‘i – More homes on the Big Island of Hawai‘i have been destroyed as eruptions linked to the Kilauea volcano increased, with lava spewing into residential areas and forcing nearly 2000 people to flee, officials said.
Scientists forecast more eruptions and earthquakes, perhaps for months to come, after the southeast corner of the Big Island was rocked by a 6.9 tremor – the strongest on the island since 1975.
Multiple new vents, from which lava is spurting out of the ground, formed in the same residential neighbourhood where molten rock first emerged on Thursday.
At least nine homes have now been destroyed by lava and the number of fissures torn open by the volcanic activity has risen to eight.
Residents were also warned to watch out for dangerous levels of sulphuric gas which could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb said “eruptive activity is increasing and is expected to continue”, and that the eruptions could carry on “for weeks or months”.
The earthquakes reflected the volcano adjusting to the shifting magma, she 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.”
The lava lake at Kilauea’s summit crater dropped significantly, suggesting the magma was moving eastward toward Puna, a mostly rural district of forests, papaya farms and lava fields left by past eruptions.
Resident Julie Woolsey fled her home late on Thursday as a volcanic vent sprouted up on her street in the Leilani Estates neighbourhood.
Woolsey built on a lot purchased 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.
“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.”
Leilani Estates has about 1700 residents and 770 homes. A nearby neighbourhood, Lanipuna Gardens, which has a few dozen people, has also been evacuated.
State Senator Russell Ruderman said he felt strong shaking in Hilo from the 6.9 earthquake, 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.”
Hawai‘i Electric Light said the jolt knocked out power to about 14,400 customers, but electricity was restored about two hours later.
The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and Hawai‘i 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 sulphuric gas.
Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 and is one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island.
Kilauea has not 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. - PNC sources