The Kilauea eruption continued its journey across Lower Puna on Sunday as two new fissures opened, destroying one structure and shooting molten rock hundreds of feet into the air.
The first outbreak started at 4:30 a.m. and resulted in the safe evacuation of two remote homes on Halekamahina Road, a half-mile northeast of the end of Hinalo Street and half-mile south of Highway 132. Lava covered the road in that area.
The 1,400-foot fissure offered up only a sluggish lava flow but produced jet engine-level noise and cannonlike booms that blasted molten rock into the air.
It was so loud, geologist Janet Babb of the U.S. Geological Survey said she could hear the sound of the blasts over a helicopter engine as she flew during an aerial survey of the fissure.
“It looks like this one is the big one,” Ikaika Marzo told his social media audience as the sun was coming up. “She’s angry right now.”
MISTAKEN FISSURE IDENTITY
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported that fissure 18 was renamed fissure 17 because Saturday’s late-evening vent opening never erupted with lava.
But then Sunday afternoon fissure 18 opened along Halekamahina Loop Road not far from fissures 17 and 16. The new vent behaved much like fissure 17, with sluggish lava and loud molten-lava blasts.
The loss of the structure Sunday brings the tally of buildings destroyed to 37 since this eruption began May 3.
Most of the lava outbreaks have occurred in and around the Leilani Estates subdivision, where more than two dozen homes have been destroyed and nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated.
Hawaii Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said a total of 300 people were sheltering at Pahoa and Keaau community centers.
EVACUATING ‘FOUR CORNERS’
Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim, said county officials were notifying people in the area along Highway 132 known as “Four Corners” that they should evacuate. She said the evacuation was not yet mandatory.
If the fissures continue opening in the same line as previous fissures, Highway 132 could be cut off by lava flows, making access out of Lower Puna more difficult for residents, Snyder said. The lava breakouts could extend all the way to the coastline, she said, which could cut off Highway 137 and further isolate area’s residents.
AGGRESSIVE LAVA FLOWS EXPECTED
Volcano scientists said Sunday that they’re still expecting to see a chemical change in lava composition that will usher in more aggressive lava flows and vigorous fountains as the current eruption spreads across the East Rift Zone in Lower Puna.
It’s possible that the change is already starting as a lava sample taken from Saturday’s fissure 16 chemically seemed to be a little different, said Steven Brantley, deputy scientist-in-charge at the observatory.
But Brantley added that a laboratory analysis so far is inconclusive.
Scientists say the current eruption has been spewing lava that was stored deep beneath the ground for decades and perhaps as far back as 1955.
But they also know that magma from Puu Oo and probably Halemaumau Crater’s summit has been moving underground into Lower Puna over the last few weeks.
The new magma, they said, is apparently pushing the old magma out onto the Puna landscape first. The older lava is cooler, more viscous and slower-moving, and that’s why there have been relatively little fountaining and minimal lava flows over the last week and a half.
“If we get predominately new lava, we think the style of the eruption will change,” Brantley said.
Lava fountains, he said, would shoot up continuously 60 to 100 feet in the air along fissures hundreds of feet long, he said.
“Presumably, it would be much more voluminous — a fresher magma, a hotter magma, so that it would be much more fluid once it got up onto the ground.”
The lava would cover much more ground, destroying everything in its path.
Brantley said new lava might behave much like the outbreak in 1955, the first Kilauea eruption into an inhabited area since 1840.
KILAUEA’S 1955 ERUPTION
That eruption started Feb. 28, 1955 and came out of at least 24 vents across the East Rift Zone, covering nearly 4,000 acres. An estimated 87.6 million cubic meters of lava destroyed homes and buried roads and cane fields as communities were evacuated from Kalapana to Kapoho.
The eruption, which saw lava travel for miles and reach the sea on at least two occasions, abruptly stopped on May 26, according to Hilo’s Lyman Museum.
“But so far, we have not been able to document a different kind of chemistry in lava that would suggest the magma is coming from Puu Oo or the summit,” Brantley said Sunday.
AT HALEMAUMAU CRATER
Scientists, meanwhile, continued to warn about the possibility of an explosive eruption at Halemaumau Crater due to the dwindling lava from the summit caldera lake.
If pressure builds up with the lava lake below the water table, and if rocks plug up the crater, the volcano could blast boulders and other debris into the vicinity of the crater and send up ash tens of miles downwind as it did in 1924, they said.
Officials said continued earthquake activity and abundant volcanic gases in Lower Puna indicated that additional outbreaks are likely, and there are no signs at this time that the outbreak will stop.
A flurry of small quakes — most around magnitude 3 — peppered the summit and East Rift Zone over the weekend. Two quakes, one at magnitude 4.6, had epicenters in the ocean.
Elsewhere, Civil Defense officials said Highway 132 was closed at the Pohoiki Road intersection. Only local traffic was allowed on Highway 132 (Pahoa-Kapoho Road) and Highway 137 (Beach Road).
Highway 130 is closed at the intersection with Highway 132 and between Malama Street and Kamaili Road. Only local traffic is allowed into the Leilani Estates subdivision.
Also, three charter schools will be closed today: Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science, Volcano School of Arts and Sciences, and Ke Kula o Nawahiokalaniopuu Iki.
Star-Advertiser reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this story from Pahoa, Hawaii island.