The eruption at the Leilani Estates subdivision opened two new vents Monday to bring the total to a dozen, and county officials reported lava flows from the vent have destroyed 35 buildings so far.
The eruption has claimed at least 26 homes, but activity in the subdivision was less dramatic Monday than over the weekend. The new fissures opened near the southern edge of the subdivision between Leilani Estates and Highway 130, and were mostly emitting gas and some lava splatter, according to scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey.
However, Lower Puna residents faced potential new hardships as authorities closed Highway 130 between Pahoa and Old Kalapana Road until further notice in response to cracks that expanded to up to 4 inches wide, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno.
“There are several in one area, so something’s going on under that road,” Magno said. “It’s probably part of the deformation from the magma being under the rift.”
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State officials announced they are planning to provide a much longer alternative route along the Puna coastline for residents of the Kalapana and Kaimu areas in the event the eruption permanently cuts the Keaau-Pahoa Road, according to a statement from the state Department of Transportation.
The cracking is at mile markers 14.4 and 14.6 on Highway 130, and widened over the weekend, according to state transportation officials.
As part of the preparations for further eruption activity, Puna Geothermal Venture announced Monday it will move about 60,000 gallons of flammable pentane off the grounds of its Pohoiki geothermal power plant, which has already shut down operations.
However, the company cannot immediately move the pentane because it does not have the containers needed to transport the chemical safely, said Janet Snyder, county public relations specialist.
The pentane has alarmed some area residents who worry the lava could ignite the flammable gas and cause a major explosion.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said in an interview that “I was taken aback a little bit because when we talked about the pentane, there were no provisions to remove the pentane. So, lesson No. 1, when this is over — and hopefully it will be over — we will ensure that this is addressed.”
County officials again allowed some of the residents who were evacuated from Leilani Estates to return Monday to retrieve belongings after their hasty exit from the subdivision Thursday.
Monday marked the second day residents were allowed in to tend to animals or recover items they were forced to leave behind, and county officials said they plan to continue to allow residents access to their homes for as long as conditions allow it.
“We’re trying to take a compassionate approach,” Snyder said. “We really, really feel for these people because they are really suffering. We want them to be able to get their stuff, take care of their animals and get out.”
Rain and the tradewinds allowed for “relatively good air quality” Monday, and the weather forecast called for similar weather through Tuesday.
“The wind and the rain together seems to be working in our favor,” she said, but there may be new concerns about air quality when the wind is expected to die down Wednesday. That could cause the emissions to stagnate and linger over the area, she said.
“We’re trying to get as much done as we can with the better air quality that we have now,” Snyder said.
Hawaii County police reported they arrested two people Monday after they allegedly failed to halt for roadblocks set up to control access into Leilani Estates.
Police said Cynthia Verschuur, 49, of Pahoa disregarded two separate police roadblocks manned by uniformed police officers who attempted to stop her vehicle at a lava post at Leilani Street and Pohoiki Road, and at Highway 130 and Malama Street.
Verschuur was charged with two counts of obstructing governmental operations, two counts of failing to obey instructions from police and one count of loitering and refusing to evacuate, police said. Her bail was set at $5,000.
David Ream, 29, also of Pahoa, was arrested after he allegedly drove past a police roadblock at Highway 130 and Kamili Road on a motorcycle. He was charged with one count of obstructing governmental operations and one count of loitering and refusing to evacuate, police said. Bail for those offenses was set at $4,250.
County parks officials said they plan to open a storage area where some of the people who were evacuated from the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna subdivisions can store their possessions, and that storage area will have security, Snyder said.
The county also opened an information center at Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa where residents can obtain information about the eruption and a variety of social services.
University of Hawaii scientists have been using heat sensors mounted on drones since Saturday to develop images of the lava patterns under the surface, and “the pattern today is a lot smaller than it was when we started,” Snyder said.
However, Kim also warned it is virtually impossible to guess what will happen next.
“For anyone to make any kind of credible predictions, you’d better ask what you’ve been drinking, because the best in the world will not make predictions. All we can do is define what is happening now,” he said.
Janet Babb, geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said, “There’s still magma within the rift zone, and so I think for the foreseeable future this eruption is likely to continue.”