2,000 evacuated in Hawaii after lava eruptions

PAHOA (Hawaii) • Nearly 2,000 people on Hawaii‘s Big Island have been evacuated from their homes after lava eruptions destroyed five houses and harmful sulphur dioxide gas posed a danger to residents.

A new fissure spewed lava about 70m into the air and there were new cracks on a highway in the Leilani Estates area, about 19km from the Kilauea volcano, which erupted last Thursday, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in a statement on Saturday.

The south-east corner of the island was rocked by a magnitude 6.9 tremor last Friday – the strongest since 1975. More earthquakes and eruptions have been forecast, perhaps for months to come.

About 1,500 homes have been evacuated in a small rural area on the island since fissures began spewing steam, lava and sulphur dioxide, which can be lethal at high levels, said the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, no injuries or deaths have been reported.

“Those remaining in Leilani, Lanipuna Gardens, and Pohoiki Road need to prepare to leave because if the winds change, you could be gassed,” Hawaii County Council member Eileen O‘Hara said in a Facebook post.

For the rest of the island, it was business as usual, with no impact to flights to tourism centres, state officials said.

Lava advancing down a street near a fissure in Leilani Estates on Hawaii‘s Big Island, where the eruption of the Kilauea volcano last Thursday has forced thousands to flee their homes. Fissures have opened throughout the rural area, appearing in roads, forested areas and sometimes in residents‘ driveways. Hot lava, which can reach temperatures of 1,150 deg C, and toxic steam have been pouring out of the cracks. Other parts of the island and state were conducting business as usual, with no impact on flights to tourism centres, state officials said. No injuries and deaths have been reported. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which provides public access to lava viewing points, has been closed since Friday. Kilauea, one of the world‘s most active volcanoes and one of five on the island, has been in constant eruption for 35 years.  PHOTO: REUTERS

“The area where lava is coming to the surface is very far from resort areas,” said Hawaii Tourism Authority president and chief executive George Szigeti.

Ms Petra Wiesenbauer, owner of Hale Moana Hawaii Bed and Breakfast, evacuated the area last Friday with her two teenage children and pets. She said: “Now, we are just trying to make plans for the future. There is no telling when or if we‘ll ever be able to go back in.”