Hawaii's Kilauea volcano: Slow-moving lava destroys more homes as more eruption points open


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Sputtering lava, strong earthquakes and toxic gas jolted the southern part of the Big Island of Hawaii as magma shifted underneath a restless, erupting Kilauea volcano. The Hawaii Army National Guard provided aerial footage of the lava flow. (May 5)
AP

KONA, Hawaii — A total of five homes have burned to the ground on Hawaii’s Big Island as slow-moving lava continues to make its way through neighborhoods and streets, leaving a trail of destruction behind. 

More than 1,700 people have evacuated their homes since Thursday when the Kilauea volcano started oozing lava. Hazards from new volcanic cracks that opened Saturday have left residents on edge and hurrying to find shelter. The eruption, along with strong earthquakes and toxic sulfur dioxide gas, has provided a trifecta of natural threats. 

At least two new eruption points opened up Saturday, allowing molten lava to escape from underground, shoot into the air and slowly take out everything in its path. The new cracks bring the total to eight fissures, the openings in Earth’s surface that allow sulfur dioxide gas to seep out and can eventually lead to lava, according to the Associated Press. Six were counted on Friday. 

The U.S. Geological Survey says this event is far from over, with more earthquakes and eruptions likely that could cover the area with plumes of ash. The agency said it has measured a jarring 477 earthquakes on the island over the last 24 hours, though many were small and likely weren’t felt by residents. 

On Friday, back-to-back earthquakes shook the region. The largest, a 6.9 magnitude, was the strongest earthquake felt by the state in decades.

The quakes are one of the side effects of the erupting volcano as magma makes its way up to the surface. 

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Kilauea is one of five volcanoes on the island — an attraction for the 8.9 million visitors the state sees annually. 

Arriving tourists on Saturday landed with a mix of excitement and anxiety. The volcanoes, after all, are what many have come to see — maybe just not quite so up close and personal.

Airport officials were monitoring the runways for earthquake damage and jetliners coming from the mainland carried extra fuel so they could divert to Honolulu if the volcano becomes more active.

Rental-car customers were warned of the danger lava poses to vehicles. 

The new cracks on Saturday allowed lava to pour out, taking out power lines and trees as it moved toward homes. 

Resident Julie Woolsey said she evacuated her home late Thursday as a volcanic vent sprouted up on her street in the Leilani Estates neighborhood.

She told the AP she let her chickens loose, packed up her belongings and loaded her dog into her truck as lava was about 1,000 yards from her home. 

“We knew we were building on an active volcano,” she said, but added that she thought the danger from lava was a remote possibility. “We’re hoping our house doesn’t burn down.”

Her neighborhood was hit again Saturday with the new vent openings. Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder told the AP five homes have burned to the ground over the last two days since lava started pouring into the subdivision. 

Resident Shane Turpin posted a series of live videos on Facebook showing a sea of lava moving through a wooded area toward homes. All that was left behind was a trail of smoldering and fiery trees.

Another video showed lava bubbling and shooting into the sky, almost as though it had boiled over.

Hawaii’s civil defense department warned residents early Saturday of the new vent openings, saying those in the area should immediately evacuate. 

“The area continues to be unstable with multiple volcanic eruptions happening,” the department’s update for citizens read. “No one is allowed into the area. Do not attempt to return to your home at this time.”

Already, about 1,700 people were ordered to evacuate because of the eruptions and sulfur dioxide gas, which on Friday reached extremely high levels. 

Exposure to sulfur dioxide gas can cause irritation or burns, sore throats, runny noses, burning eyes and coughing.

Hayes reported from McLean, Va.; Hughes reported from Hawaii

Contributing: Associated Press

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