PAHOA, Hawaii >> A helicopter crew saved three Puna residents from the ravages of Kilauea on Sunday, hours before a magnitude-5.5 earthquake below the volcano’s summit sent an ash plume 8,000 feet skyward.
Both Kapoho and Vacationland were cut off from the rest of Hawaii island as lava rolled over Highways 132 and 137, Hawaii County Civil Defense said.
Active eruptions continued in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, with fissure 8 feeding a large, half-mile-wide flow that was approaching the ocean.
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Meanwhile, all residents along Highway 137 between Four Corners and Isaac Hale Park were ordered to evacuate.
The quake struck at 3:51 p.m. with an epicenter about a half-mile below the Kilauea summit caldera, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There were no reports of injuries and no resulting tsunami warning.
Southwesterly winds sent the thick, dramatic ash plume toward Volcano village and Pahala, with fallout expected in those locales, Civil Defense said.
Most of the quakes associated with the eruption are in the magnitude-2 to 3 range.
Brian Shiro, supervisory geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said about 500 earthquakes occurred at Kilauea over a 24-hour period as of 11 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” he said. “There’s a lot of them.”
In Vacationland, Heather Devlin was helping salvage some of her mother-in-law’s belongings Sunday when lava cut off access to the subdivision, trapping her inside.
Friends of her mother-in-law, Kate Howard, called county Civil Defense and alerted them that Devlin and two other people were still there.
Initial reports said a helicopter from the Hawaii County Fire Department conducted the rescue. Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno clarified at a news conference Sunday afternoon that a private helicopter contracted by the U.S. Geological Survey rescued the three Sunday morning.
After the rescue, Devlin arrived, trembling and crying, at a home at the Hawaiian Beaches subdivision where Howard is temporarily staying with her three dogs and a blind cat.
Sunday marked one month since of the May 3 eruptive phase began. Since then lava has destroyed nearly 90 homes, displaced hundreds of residents and laid waste to more than 4,200 acres.
Civil Defense last reported the eruption activity destroyed 87 homes in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens. The number is expected to increase as officials have yet to review property maps in Kapoho Beach Lots and a portion of Vacationland covered by lava Saturday.
Howard, a retired preschool teacher of Kamehameha Schools in Pahoa, expressed disbelief that lava had consumed her home of 40 years at the corner of Moani Road and Highway 137.
“I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. I am absolutely stunned,” Howard said. She lived in her two-story home on a 3-acre property.
A certified horticulturist, Howard also had an orchard there where she grew dozens of varieties of fruits such as soursop, star fruit, avocados and mangoes.
The two other people rescued Sunday were a man who is Howard’s neighbor and has lived in Vacationland for 30 years and a woman who uses a wheelchair and resides on Howard’s property.
No injuries were reported.
Howard said a friend opened his Hawaiian Beaches home to her and her neighbor, Tia Klugg-Wessell, after they evacuated.
Magno estimates several residents remain in isolated areas as they have received reports of people observed in the Pohoiki Bay area. Civil Defense officials expressed concerned about their safety as there is no electricity, municipal water service or cellphone and landline service.
Howard’s sister, Emma Howard of Santa Barbara, Calif., had constantly urged her to leave her home in past weeks, but Kate Howard didn’t because she never thought the lava would flow over Green Mountain and consume her property.
“I was fooled,” Howard said.
Emma Howard recalled talking with her sister Friday when she told her, “I’m leaving with the clothes on my back and the animals.”
She immediately recognized her sister’s manicured property in an aerial video taken Saturday by Civil Defense and circulated on social media.
“My sister loved her property so much. She took such good care of it,” Howard said.
Green Lake, the largest freshwater feature on the island, is also gone.
Shiro said the lava came around the intersection of Highways 132 and 137, known as Four Corners, and entered the lake. A large steam plume emanated from the brackish waters, and within three hours the lake had disappeared.
Fountaining at fissure 8 remained active with heights up to 220 feet. The USGS reported the channelized flow continued to deliver lava northeast along Highway 132 to the Kapoho area and that lava was advancing toward the ocean at Kapoho Bay between Kapoho Beach Road and Kapoho Kai Drive.
As of 5:45 p.m. Sunday the flow was about 245 yards from the ocean.
Fissure 9 is also starting to emit sulfur dioxide, officials said.
Meanwhile, state officials continue to warn people against sneaking around checkpoints in Lower Puna to get close to active lava flows, and started issuing citations Sunday to people who were being rescued by air from designated evacuation zones.
Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers cited another eight people Saturday for loitering in a disaster area, bringing the total to 18 the number of people who bypassed checkpoints. They said many of the citations went to people who used back roads that remain open to local residents who might need to evacuate but are blocked with cones or barricades to prevent others from entering.
DOCARE officers cited Glenn Rupp, 36, and Brian Rupp, 40, brothers from Massachusetts, standing on top of lava that was hardening but still active. They were wearing masks and taking photographs.
The state, in a release, said the men had driven their rental vehicle onto Pohoiki Road when officers confronted them.
DOCARE officers cited Nanawale Estates residents Eli McKibbin, 39, and Randy Hoyle, 51, and California residents Darrell Wells, 53, and Alice Wells, 51, on Lava Tree Road off Forest Road. Also receiving citations Saturday were Kyle Eckstrom, 34, of Honolulu, who the state said was driving a pickup truck just below the gate at Lava Tree State Park, and David Jenson, 41, of Washington, D.C., whose vehicle was parked right outside the park.
Star-Advertiser reporter Nelson Daranciang contributed to this report.