The Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island first erupted Thursday, sending billowing clouds of steam and volcanic ash into the sky and prompting emergency officials to order mandatory evacuations.
Authorities warned residents to stay out of the area Friday as molten rock shot high into the air from cracks in the ground in Leilani Estates, a subdivision in the Puna district, on the eastern side of the island.
Only one hour after a 5.6 magnitude earthquake hit south of the volcano around 11:30 a.m. on Friday morning, residents had another 6.9-magnitude quake on their hands, sending people fleeing from buildings and shelters and increasing concerns about new volcanic eruptions.
This was the largest quake in Hawaii since 1975, and generated small tsunami waves around the Big Island, triggering sea fluctuations that ranged from 8 inches in Hilo to 16 inches at Kapoho, Hawaii County Civil Defense said.
Dr. Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said the small tsunami waves did not pose any threat but underscore the importance of vigilance as the Kilauea eruptions continue.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency also said there was “active volcanic fountaining” in the Leilani neighborhood, meaning the lava was springing up from ground fractures; reports indicated it was shooting 80 to 100 feet into the sky. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said at least five fissure vents have opened in the subdivision so far — and that more outbreaks are likely to occur along the rift zone.
As Friday went on, the situation in the Puna subdivision grew more dire with authorities issuing warnings to those that choose not to heed mandatory orders to leave: “First responders may not be able to come to the aid of residents who refuse to evacuate.”
The six eruptions, the latest of which started just five minutes after the large quake, are threatening several homes — and authorities have confirmed that at least two structures have sustained significant damage. Landslides have also been triggered along the Hamakua Coast.
Before Thursday’s eruption, The USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) research geophysicist Jim Kauahikaua said the seismic activity seen in recent days is similar to what happened before an eruption of Kilauea in February 1955. During that eruption, at least 24 separate volcanic vents opened and lava covered about 3,900 acres. Kauahikaua explained that coastal communities from Kalapana to Kapoho were evacuated and “sections of every public road to the coastline were buried by lava” before the eruption abruptly stopped in May 1955.
On Wednesday, amid fears of an eruption, Hawaii County has closed the Kalapana lava viewing area. The area can draw 500 to more than 2,000 visitors, depending on the level of volcanic activity. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has also closed off access to about 15,688 acres. The Kilauea volcano is the youngest and most active on the island of Hawaii and has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, according to the USGS.
Though the quakes could be felt on the highly populated island of Oahu, as of 11:20 EST, no evacuations have been called for. Residents on Oahu do not appear to be experiencing any detrimental effects from the eruptions either. When asked if smoke was an issue, Mililani resident Mike Anderson told SOFREP “Things are all clear here so far. Not even the normal volcanic fog we get from the trade winds.”
A state of emergency was issued by the County of Hawaii’s acting mayor, Wil Okabe and Gov. David Ige (D) issued an emergency proclamation, activating Hawaii’s National Guard to help with evacuations. There are 770 structures and 1,700 people in the area under mandatory evacuation, said Cindy McMillan, a spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige.
No injuries have been reported so far.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Associated Press