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Saturday 23 March 2019

Scores flee as lava from Hawaiian volcano destroys homes

Molten rock, toxic gas and steam have been bursting through openings in the ground in the Leilani Estates area.

Lava slowly advances in the Leilani Estates
Lava slowly advances in the Leilani Estates

By Caleb Jones, Jennifer Peltz and Sophia Yan

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has destroyed 26 homes and spewed lava hundreds of feet into the air, leaving hundreds of residents displaced.

Hawaii County officials said another four unspecified structures had been covered by lava.

The destroyed homes were in the Leilani Estates area, where molten rock, toxic gas and steam have been bursting through openings in the ground created by the volcano.

US Volcano

Some of the more than 1,700 residents who were evacuated were allowed to briefly return to gather medicine, pets and other necessities.

Officials said residents would be able to do so each day until further notice as authorities monitor which areas are safe.

Lava has spread around 387,500 square feet surrounding the most active fissure, though the rate of movement is slow. There was no indication when the lava might stop or how far it might spread.

“There’s more magma in the system to be erupted. As long as that supply is there, the eruption will continue,” US Geological Survey volcanologist Wendy Stovall said.

About 250 people and 90 pets spent Saturday night at shelters, the American Red Cross said.

The number of lava-venting fissures in the neighbourhood grew overnight from eight to as many as 10, Ms Stovall said. Some have quietened at various points, but USGS scientists expect fissures to keep spewing.

The lava could eventually be channelled to one powerful vent while others go dormant, as has happened in some previous Hawaii eruptions, Ms Stovall said.

Leilani Estates resident Sam Knox watches the lava

Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has been erupting continuously since 1983.

The USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a notice in mid-April that there were signs of pressure building in underground magma, and a new vent could form on the cone or along what is known as the East Rift Zone. Leilani Estates sits along the zone.

The crater floor began to collapse last Monday, triggering earthquakes and pushing lava into new underground chambers that carried it towards Leilani Estates and nearby communities.

A magnitude-6.9 earthquake — Hawaii’s largest in more than 40 years — hit the area on Friday.

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