NANAWALE ESTATES, Hawaii >> A series of cracks in the asphalt that stretch across two-lane Nanawale Boulevard symbolize the stress and fear among residents in South Puna.
Tufts of weeds in some of the cracks on Saturday suggested the road broke open well before lava started spewing from the ground two days earlier in nearby Leilani Estates, which is located southwest of Nanawale Estates and its estimated 1,600 residents.
Still, Glen Bousquet said his friend stretched three strips of blue tape across the cracks to see if they widen and pull the tape apart — even though Bousquet hopes the cracks were caused by previous seismic activity or even just normal road wear.
But Nanci Munroe is not taking any chances.
She parked her 2007 Honda Pilot loaded with clothes, a sleeping bag, bottled water and a full tank of gas along Nanawale Boulevard and took a good long stare at the cracks in the road.
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“Just since I’ve been watching it, that one edge seems to have lifted,” Munroe said. “This isn’t my first rodeo. I know that Pele’s going to go where Pele’s going to go.”
Since a series of fissures opened up in Leilani Estates on Thursday, spitting lava and toxic sulfur dioxide, it seems that everyone in South Puna has become an amateur geologist and volcanologist, convinced they know which communities are safe and which ones are vulnerable to further outbreaks.
But then, no one two weeks ago predicted that lava from Kilauea would suddenly shoot from the ground in Leilani Estates, along with earthquakes and fears that all the shaking will trigger a tsunami.
“We don’t quite know where the pressure will be,” said Tina Neal, scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. “I wish volcanoes worked like clocks and were predictable.”
At least eight fissures have opened so far, followed by lava that has burned five structures. Some 1,800 people remain under orders to stay out of both Leilani Estates and nearby Lanipuna Gardens.
While Saturday’s seismic activity wasn’t as severe as on Friday, which saw a 6.9 magnitude earthquake, Neal told reporters to expect more temblors, fissures and lava for days and possibly weeks.
LEILANI Estates is filled with one- and multi-acre parcels boasting ocean views. It’s a clear contrast to Nanawale Estates, where roughly 650 modest homes are packed together.
Before earthquakes began rumbling underground and opening fissures in Leilani Estates, it would have been hard to find anyone in Nanawale Estates who thought they might experience the same fate.
The former is located in the heart of Kilauea’s so-called East Rift Zone risk area. While the latter is just northeast of Leilani Estates, it is considered just outside of the East Rift Zone.
But Friday’s earthquake shook Munroe’s beliefs. And then, at 3 a.m. Saturday, the overwhelming smell of rotten eggs from sulfur dioxide woke her up.
“I smelled it, and it stressed me out,” Munroe said. “I stepped outside, and it was pretty thick.”
Munroe said she plans to keep her two outdoor cats inside, along with her dog, in case she needs to scoop up all of her pets in an emergency evacuation.
“I’m ready to go,” she declared.
Olya Shkredko on Saturday implored the cracks running across Nanawale Boulevard not to widen any more.
She extended her left arm and said, “Don’t go further up, please. Stay like this. Stay.”
Shkredko’s 2014 Dodge Caravan is packed and her cat, Angus, has been sleeping in his pet carrier.
“If they say go, I switch the key and I go,” said Shkredko, 59.
Asked what she packed first, Shkredko — who was born in Ukraine — paused briefly to contain her emotions.
“Old pictures — my father, mother, my grandparents,” she said.
Normally, Bousquet would never worry that lava would burn his two-bedroom, two-bathroom home.
During the 2014 eruption in Pahoa, Bousquet became an internet sensation when he shot a selfie of himself as lava began a slow creep that overran Cemetery Road, destroyed a Buddhist cemetery, burned a farmer’s shed and set a stack of tires and an open-air cattle shed on fire in the rural community of 8,200.
“But this is a different kind of eruption,” Bousquet said while eyeing the cracks on Nanawale Boulevard. “The situation is fluid. It’s constant. It’s changing rapidly. So we’re constantly assessing the situation.”
His girlfriend, Edna Quiocho, 61, was born and grew up in Hilo and lived through the 7.2 magnitude earthquake of 1975 while in high school, along with more recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Iselle, followed by the 2014 lava flow.
Even as a veteran survivor of Hawaii island natural disasters, Quiocho said the current eruption feels different.
“In my heart I’m scared,” she said. “I’m worried. This one’s unpredictable.”
While she’s worried about lava bursting from the ground, Quiocho especially fears the equally unpredictable poisonous fumes that come with it and any sudden changes in wind direction.
“Watch the birds,” she said. “If they start dropping from the sky, then we know it’s coming our way.”