One day after emergency personnel raced door to door Sunday night telling residents in a Hawaii island community about an onrush of lava, the county’s disaster management boss delivered a new message for people who refused to heed a previous call to get out.
That message on Monday: Please be more prepared to flee at any moment’s notice.
Then, just three hours later, the second emergency alert and door-to-door warnings in two days about fast-moving lava went out.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno described Monday, before the latest lava scare, a scene of Sunday evening’s effort to keep people from being killed by a flow in the rural Leilani Estates subdivision where one person had to be rescued despite a more than 3-week-old mandatory evacuation notice for the area.
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Magno said public safety officers from several agencies including local police and fire departments, the county Department of Public Works, the National Guard and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources found what he guesstimated as more than 20 homes with residents in serious danger of the approaching lava Sunday evening.
U.S. Geological Survey drones equipped with infrared sensing equipment helped locate people, according to the county, which also sent text alerts to mobile phones in the area.
Ten, or possibly more, homes were burned down between Sunday night and Monday morning by lava the county described as moving at a “fast walking pace,” which was speedier than many other prior flows in the area.
“Kind of disturbingly, some people just refused to leave,” Magno said. “And so it kind of gives us a terrifying insight into what’s going on out there.
“We had one gentleman that had to be kind of rescued. His only way out was through his back door and through the forest. People, we tell them they need to be prepared. If they’re going to go to that extent (staying), they need to know their escape route.
“In this case the lava was moving fast and it could come again. These people, Leilani residents and the surrounding areas that are putting themselves in this situation, they need to be very prepared.”
Indeed, an onrush of lava did come again Monday evening.
Hawaii County for weeks has had a “mandatory” evacuation order in place for several hundred residents in dangerous areas mainly at Leilani Estates, but no one is being forcefully removed from their homes. An estimated 200 or so residents remain in the subdivision with 700 to 900 homes and electricity that is still on for about half the area.
Magno and other safety officials recognize that residents fear losing their homes and that some want to stay because other options for housing, including shelters, are difficult. Some people want to maintain a sense of normalcy. Some fear looting despite strict police checkpoints. Other concerns also exist over leaving.
On Sunday afternoon while lava wasn’t moving very much in Leilani Estates, two people were out mowing their lawns. One was Robert Henry, who moved in with friends at Hawaiian Paradise Park and was just visiting his Leilani Estates home.
“I came in to mow my lawn so the house looks lived in and doesn’t get looted,” he said.
Mother Nature and Madame Pele, however, are in control.
The alert about Monday’s new flow went out at about 6 p.m. and warned of lava advancing on two streets, Nohea and Kupono, and a fountain on a third street, Moku.
Overnight Sunday the production of lava through two fissures that triggered the emergency actions stalled. The stoppage from the two fissures also happened after lava covered two sealed-up Puna Geothermal Venture wells adjacent to Leilani Estates.
County officials said Monday there was no release of any dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas, as some feared might happen if lava breached the well shafts that tap steam and hot water several thousand feet down to make electricity through turbines.
Of the new lava activity Monday, one of the same fissures involved in Sunday’s scare, fissure 8, reactivated after stalling.
Jim Kauahikaua, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said seven other fissures were producing lava Monday afternoon, including two — fissures 17 and 21 — that had high fountains.
At the Kilauea summit miles away from Pahoa and Leilani Estates, there continued to be frequent explosions of ash from the caldera crater blown 10,000 to 13,000 feet into the air Monday.
Because of light easterly winds around 5 miles per hour, sulfur dioxide, which is irritating and less of a health concern than hydrogen sulfide gas, is pooling and drifting toward areas around Ocean View and Pahala.
The sulfur dioxide produced by the lava eruptions also could drift to areas including Pahoa, Nanawale, South Hilo and toward Hamakua, the county reported.
Tradewinds that typically blow the sulfur dioxide away from most East Hawaii populations are expected to return Wednesday.
County officials plan to hold two community meetings this week: one today scheduled for 5 p.m. at Pahoa High School’s cafeteria, and one Wednesday scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Kau High.