The Kilauea eruption burst open two more vents at the northeastern edge of the Leilani Estates subdivision and consumed another home Tuesday afternoon, prompting an urgent evacuation order for residents in the adjoining Lanipuna Gardens subdivision.
The eruption has now opened 14 separate vents and covered 104 acres of forest land and home sites with lava. Gov. David Ige said Monday he thought the damage done may have already met the $1.9 million threshold for the federal government to declare a major disaster on Hawaii island.
Ige met with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials Tuesday morning at the Hawaii County Civil Defense headquarters, but even before the meeting he expressed confidence that the damage to public infrastructure in Puna, including roads, will meet the requirements to trigger federal assistance.
He later toured portions of Leilani Estates.
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“We were able to walk up pretty close to some of the fissures and the lava flow, and so seeing how it really is in the middle of that subdivision just really emphasizes how different this event is and, I think more importantly, how dangerous it is for the residents,” Ige said. “For those talking about losing homes or property, it’s definitely a time full of anxiety.”
“Part of the challenge is the uncertainty,” he added. “Eruptions start and stop and start and stop, and it’s clear from the geologists that this event is not over.”
As if to prove the point, the Lower East Rift Zone ended its 24-hour pause in major activity Tuesday afternoon by opening the two new vents in Leilani Estates and damaging Pohoiki Road to the point that the road had to be closed.
One of the new vents opened at Kaupili Street, and the other split apart near the intersection of Kahukai and Leilani streets, destroying a home there, according to a county spokeswoman.
U.S. Geological Survey geologist Janet Babb said yet another crack opened at about 2:30 p.m. and “seemed to be erupting fairly vigorously.”
That activity was near Lanipuna Gardens, where residents were already under a standing evacuation order. However, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said “a lot” of the estimated 300 people who live in Lanipuna Gardens had returned home, and authorities issued a new evacuation alert.
Police and Civil Defense workers went door to door in the subdivision.
“I know they were able to get an 88-year-old gentleman who had no vehicle,” Magno said. “We assisted in getting him out.”
The ongoing eruption at Leilani Estates has destroyed 36 structures so far, including at least 27 homes. An estimated 1,800 people have now been evacuated from the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, and access to those areas has been tightly restricted.
Magma on the move
Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey earlier Tuesday had reported that below-ground shaking was increasing south of Leilani Estates, which could be a sign of magma on the move that could burst to the surface. They also reported the lava lake at the summit of the volcano is continuing to drop, which could be another hint of more eruption activity to come.
Authorities have closed Highway 130 between Pahoa and Old Kalapana Road until further notice in response to cracks that continued to expand Monday night or Tuesday morning, including some that are now more than 4 inches wide.
The vents are spewing out poisonous sulfur dioxide gas, which is a chief concern of many residents.
A specialized squad from the Arizona National Guard that will help take measurements of gases being released from the vents will be arriving soon, Ige said.
The state Department of Health has obtained four sulfur dioxide monitors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and those will be installed as early as Friday at schools and shelters. The department is seeking six more of the MIT monitors.
As of Tuesday morning county officials reported there were 187 people taking shelter at the Pahoa Community Center and another 15 who sheltered at the Keaau Community Center.
Ige said much of the discussion among Civil Defense officials has now turned to how to sustain the necessary security and other functions if the eruption becomes a long-term event.