Hundreds evacuated as Hawaii volcano erupts

LOS ANGELES • Hundreds of people were under evacuation orders yesterday after the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii‘s Big Island came to life, belching ash into the sky and spewing fountains of lava in a residential area, officials said.

The volcano, one of five on the island, erupted on Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the last couple of days, including a 5.0 tremor earlier in the day, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported on its website.

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Shortly after 5pm, “spatter began erupting”, according to the USGS.

On some streets, the bright red-orange lava could be seen spurting out of cracks in the ground. The deafening sound of grinding rocks filled the air and “white, hot vapour and blue fume emanated” from the cracking, the service reported.

“It sounded like there were rocks in a dryer that were being tumbled around,” said Mr Jeremiah Osuna, who lives near Leilani Estates, one of two sub-divisions evacuated. “You could hear the power of it pushing out of the ground.”

The agency said those downwind of the dissipating plume “may experience a dusting of ash”, warning of “potentially lethal concentrations of sulphur dioxide gas” in the zone as well as methane blasts that could propel large rocks and debris in adjacent areas.

Residents of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens sub-divisions in Puna district, home to about 1,700 people, were ordered to evacuate after public works officials reported steam and lava spewing from a crack, according to the county‘s Civil Defence Agency. In addition to the obligatory evacuations, many areas fell under voluntary evacuation zones, affecting some 10,000 people, said a local official.

LIKE ROCKS IN A DRYER

It sounded like there were rocks in a dryer that were being tumbled around. You could hear the power of it pushing out of the ground.

MR JEREMIAH OSUNA, who lives near Leilani Estates, one of two sub-divisions evacuated, on the sound of the grinding rocks.

Earlier, at 10.30am, a 5.0-magnitude earthquake south of the Pu‘u ‘O‘o volcano cone triggered rockfalls and a potential collapse into a crater on the volcano, according to the USGS.

Governor David Ige activated the Hawaii National Guard to provide emergency response help. “Please be alert and prepare now to keep your family safe,” he said on Twitter to residents living near the volcano.

No injuries or deaths were reported.

The USGS reported that lava spatter and gas bursts erupted only for about two hours and the lava spread less than 10m from the fissure. “At this time, the fissure is not erupting lava and no other fissures have erupted,” according to a statement from the service released shortly after 10pm local time on Thursday.

But Dr Janet Babb, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, said the inactivity does not mean the event is over and there is no way to forecast how long the eruption could last.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST