Thirty-one homes have been destroyed by lava shooting out of openings in the ground created by Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, as some of the more than 1,700 people who evacuated prepare for the possibility they may not return for quite some time.
“I have no idea how soon we can get back,” said Todd Corrigan, who left his home in Leilani Estates with his wife on Friday as lava burst through the ground three or four blocks away. They spent the night on the beach in their car and began looking for a vacation rental.
Hawaii County civil defense officials said on Sunday two new fissures opened overnight, bringing the total to nine in the neighborhood since Thursday. Officials updated the number to 31 after an aerial survey of the subdivision.
Scientists said Kilauea was likely to release more lava through additional vents, but they were unable to predict where. Leilani Estates, a subdivision in the mostly rural district of Puna, is at greatest risk. Authorities ordered more than 1,700 residents to evacuate from there and nearby Lanipuna Gardens.
Hundreds of small earthquakes continued to rumble through the area on Saturday, one day after a magnitude-6.9 temblor, the largest earthquake to hit Hawaii in more than 40 years. Magma moving through Kilauea set off the earthquakes, said geologists, who warned of aftershocks.
Authorities cautioned that sulfuric gas pouring out of the vents also posed dangers, particularly to elderly and people with respiratory problems. A Hawaii county spokeswoman, Kanani Aton, said some residents might be allowed to return home briefly to pick up medicine or take care of pets if sulfur dioxide levels drop as a result of the calming vents.
Tesha Montoya, 45, said the threat of toxic fumes hadn’t been enough to make her family evacuate, but the tipping point was the earthquakes.
“I felt like the whole side of our hill was going to explode,” she said. “The earthquake was what made us start running and start throwing guinea pigs and bunnies in the car.”
Amber Makuakane, 37, a teacher and single mother of two, said her three-bedroom house in Leilani Estates was destroyed by lava.
The dwelling was across from a fissure that opened Friday, when “there was some steam rising from all parts of the yard, but everything looked fine,” Makuakane said.
On Saturday, she received alerts from her security system that motion sensors throughout the house had been triggered. She later confirmed that lava had covered her property.
“They don’t really understand,” she said about her children. “My son keeps asking me, ‘Mommy when are we going to go home?’”
Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 and is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. In 2014, lava burned a house and smothered a cemetery as it approached Pahoa, the town closest to Leilani Estates. But this flow stalled just before it reached Pahoa’s main road.
Nearly 30 years ago, lava slowly covered an entire town, Kalapana, over about a year.